JUDGE CHRIS PIAZZA: Orders legal fee in challenge of state slush fund spending.

Judge Chris Piazza has again ordered payment of $323,267 in attorney fees to John Ogles for his legal work, along with Mike Wilson, in Wilson’s third challenge of unconstitutional pork barreling by the Arkansas legislature.

The state doled out tens of millions in unconstitutional spending on local projects controlled by legislators. Wilson, a former legislator, focused his suit on money spent in Central Arkansas and managed to block about $1 million in illegal spending. The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed that the scheme was unconstitutional, but sent Piazza’s first fee award back for more hearings. Wilson has said he’s working for free, though he’d like to get some out-of-pocket expenses back if Ogles gets paid.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s John Lynch reported this morning on the hearing and Piazza’s ruling.

Advertisement

Will this finally be good enough for the Supreme Court? If not — and the Supreme Court rules that lawyers acting in the public interest must work for free (against phalanxes of publicly paid lawyers from the attorney general’s office and private firms representing plaintiffs such as the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District) — you can kiss most future public interest lawsuits goodbye. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge‘s well-funded staff continues to fight paying the winning lawyers, as before.

There will always be a need for lawsuits given the law- and Constitution-flouting tendencies of the legislature. As Lynch notes, eternal vigilance is required. The 2019 legislature repealed the General Improvement Fund, from which local boondoggles (turkey dinners, fireworks, high school sweat suits), bribes, kickbacks and general waste flowed. But it replaced it in Act 82 with the Development and Enhancement Fund. New name, same slush fund. It may be used for:

(1) Various construction and improvement projects; (2) Unforeseen needs; (3) Funding deficiencies; and (4) The completion of projects previously funded by the General Assembly.

I’m confident that legislators cut from the same cloth as the federally imprisoned Jon Woods, accused felon Jeremy Hutchinson and many others can find a way to sneak a tractor-trailer or two full of cash through those loopholes. Mike Wilson may not be done yet, fee or no fee.