CHARLES STARKS Brian Chilson

Judge holds city in contempt over Starks case

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox held the city of Little Rock in contempt Jan. 21 for failing to reissue Officer Charles Starks his gun and badge. Starks, who had been fired in May 2018, was ordered reinstated at a reduced rate of pay by Fox on Jan. 2. Police Chief Keith Humphrey fired Starks for violating police procedure by stepping in front of a moving car in the course of a traffic stop of Bradley Blackshire in February 2019. Blackshire was driving a stolen car and bumped Starks as he was driving slowly away despite Starks’ order to stop. Starks fired through the windshield, killing Blackshire. The city had asked for a delay in putting Starks back to work pending appeal, but Fox refused. The city and Little Rock Police Department relented and returned Starks’ gun and badge later on Jan. 21. 

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Hunter Biden ordered to appear

Independence County Circuit Court Judge Holly Meyer has ordered Hunter Biden to appear in court Jan. 29, when the judge will hear a motion filed by a woman suing him for child support asking that Biden be held in contempt of court for failure to produce discovery documents. Meyer declared Biden, son of the former vice president, the father of a child born to Lunden Alexis Roberts of Independence County on Aug. 28, 2018. The paternity ruling orders a new birth certificate to be issued reflecting that. A DNA test, Biden had acknowledged previously, established him as the likely father. Biden and Roberts had a relationship while she was living in Washington, D.C. He now lives in Los Angeles with a second wife, who reportedly is pregnant. A final hearing on child support and visitation is May 13.

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Hog farm closed, owners get $6.2 million

A deal that requires C&H Hog Farms Inc. in the Buffalo River watershed to abandon its large-scale hog feeding operation was closed in January with the release of $6.2 million to the farm owners. In exchange, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission now holds the conservation easement to the property, located near Big Creek, 6.6 miles from its confluence with the Buffalo National River. The deal leaves the state with responsibility for cleaning up the former hog waste ponds.

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C&H will still own the land, but its use will be restricted. The state no longer allows factory feeding operations in the Buffalo watershed.

Bloomberg campaigns in Arkansas

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, running for the Democratic nomination for president, continued his courtship of Arkansas voters on Jan. 20 when he marched in Little Rock’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Marade. He was accompanied by supporters holding up his campaign signs. The former New York City mayor, who has been campaigning for eight weeks, is foregoing early primary and caucus states to focus on Super Tuesday on March 3, when Arkansas will be among 14 states holding contests. After the march, Bloomberg, who has spent more than $1 million on television advertising in Arkansas, also participated in the Homeless Backpack Community Service Project, a local nonprofit’s effort to provide food and clothing to homeless people in the city. 

Winners lose in high court

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In a ruling affirming a lower court ruling for plaintiffs but which will also reduce their awarded damages, the state Supreme Court in January found that the city of Little Rock violated the due process rights of tenants and the landlord/owner when it attempted to close an apartment complex in 2015 due to safety violations and gave tenants just one week to vacate. A Pulaski County Circuit Court judge stopped the city from turning off the utilities at the Alexander Apartments in Southwest Little Rock and ruled it had violated the due process rights of tenants, rewarding the tenants $52,000 in damages. The Supreme Court agreed due process rights had been violated but ruled that those damages were insufficiently linked to that due process violation, and remanded the question of damages back to circuit court. The high court upheld the damage award of $432,000 to landlord/owner Jason Bolden based on the decline of the number of tenants caused by the city’s action. Ironically, Bolden has been sued numerous times by tenants over code violations.

The city based its action on numerous fire and safety code violations at the 141-unit complex on Colonel Glenn Road, including exposed wiring, lack of functioning smoke alarms and other electrical, plumbing, structural and mechanical issues. Residents were given one week to vacate when the city announced the closure. One tenant received the notice to vacate just days after giving birth.