Judge Tim Fox this morning denied the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s petition to be allowed to attend, in person or virtually, his hearing this morning on the matter of a Pope County casino permit, being contested by Gulfside Casino Partnership and the Cherokee Nation.

In short, he blames the closure of the courthouse on the county judge (though people may enter with court approval) and says the question of whether a hearing may be held by Zoom is up to the discretion of the judge.

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If the D-G doesn’t like it, they can ask for help from the Arkansas Supreme Court or go to a federal court. Time is short, with a hearing set at 9 a.m.

UPDATE: The hearing lasted almost two hours. No decision was announced this morning. Gulfside declined to comment afterward. The Cherokee Nation released a statement from its lawyer:

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“We appreciate the Court allowing the parties to focus on the constitutional question today. The plain language of Amendment 100, an Act of the Legislature, and a Rule of the Racing Commission state that an “applicant” must submit a letter from “the County Judge.” When Gulfside became an “applicant,” Jim Ed Gibson was not “the county judge.” Thus, Gulfside’s application was correctly disqualified. The Supreme Court will ultimately decide the constitutional question once the parties receive Judge Fox’s decision.” – Bart Calhoun, legal counsel for Cherokee Nation Businesses

Judge Fox’s response to the newspaper’s request was pretty snotty, if you ask me.

Read it here.

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A snippet:

No statute of this state confers upon the “general public” a conditional right to intervene in administrative appeals from the Racing Commission regarding the issuance of a casino license..

Neither applicant claims an interest in the casino license that *is the subject of the action.”

The applicants, as members of the “general public,” simply have no interest relating to issuance of the casino license itself, which is the subject of the present action. The applicants are claiming a violation of constitutional rights personal to themselves.

If given the opportunity, I like the odds of a reversal of a judge who thinks the public isn’t entitled to proceedings by a publicly paid judge in a publicly paid facility deciding a matter of some great public importance through interpretation of the Arkansas Constitution. But I’m not lawyer. I just play one on a blog.

UIPDATE: Jeannie Roberts, reporter for the Democrat-Gazette, says Fox allowed eight people from the public to attend after the hearing began, apparently because of a change in County Judge Barry Hyde’s order relative to access to the building. Seeking that specific  change:

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UPDATE II: County Judge Barry Hyde tells me there was no amended order. The rule remains as it has for 13 months. The building is closed to the public with exceptions, but those exceptions include people cleared to attend court proceedings by the judge.

Hyde said the benches had been removed from Fox’s courtroom months ago because he objected to the county staff’s taping off portions of the rows of spectator benches so as to maintain distancing within the rooms when people were admitted. Hyde said Fox objected to painter’s tape on pews and ordered all of them removed.

Hyde wasn’t at the hearing but he said he understood seating had been provided for all who attended but Jeannie Roberts. (I’ve confirmed that. Is the judge a class act or what?)