Jennings appointed special master in casino case, medical marijuana group reports fundraising tally

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 172 views 

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Wednesday (Sept. 14) appointed former Court of Appeals Judge John Jennings as a special master in a lawsuit filed by opponents of a proposed amendment authorizing casinos. Dates were set for the proceedings.

Meanwhile, supporters of an amendment limiting medical judgments filed a cross claim against a lawsuit to knock it off the ballot, while supporters and opponents of a medical marijuana act reported their contributions for August.

Previously, the Supreme Court had appointed retired Circuit Judge Bentley Story as special master in the casino case, but he recused Saturday after learning that his daughter-in-law does consulting work for Oaklawn Park.

Jennings will conduct proceedings and hearings on the case and file his report with the court by Oct. 3. Final briefs in the case are due Oct. 18 – six days before early voting begins Oct. 24. The election is Nov. 8. However, Secretary of State Mark Martin Wednesday requested an extension because his legal counsel will be out of the office Sept. 27 to Oct. 4.

The attorneys for all sides agreed on the request for the extension, including those for the casino sponsor, Arkansas Wins in 2016, and three individual “intervenors” who wish to vote on the amendment – Cynthia Stone of Hot Springs, Jeff Crockett of Harrison, and Larry Witcher of Jonesboro. All parties have asked for final briefs to be due Oct. 29.

Among the attorneys for the three individual intervenors is Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, with the law firm of Steel, Wright, Gray & Hutchinson. Hutchinson is the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who opposes the casino amendment. Issue 5 would allow casino gaming in Washington, Miller and Boone Counties by embedding in the Arkansas Constitution the three entities allowed to operate the casinos: Washington County Gaming, LLC; Miller County Gaming, LLC; and, in Boone County, Arkansas Gaming and Resorts, LLC, or those entities’ successors or assignees.

Chuck Lange and Bill Walmsley with the Committee to Protect Arkansas’ Values/Stop Casinos Now filed suit in the Arkansas Supreme Court Sept. 6 saying the amendment violates federal law and is unconstitutional, that the ballot title is misleading, and that the amendment’s signature collection process was faulty. On Wednesday, attorneys for the individual intervenors filed a response saying the ballot title is not misleading and presents voters with adequate information. They denied all other allegations.

In another Arkansas Supreme Court case, attorneys for Health Care Access for Arkansans filed a cross-claim saying that some of the signatures it submitted that Martin declared invalid were indeed valid. The group submitted 131,687 signatures, of which at least 92,997 Martin declared valid – more than the 84,859 required.

Health Care Access for Arkansans supports an amendment that would direct the Legislature to set a cap of at least $250,000 for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering in medical injury lawsuits. It also would limit trial lawyer contingency fees at 33 1/3 percent after expenses. The amendment would not affect economic or punitive damages and would not apply to workers’ compensation cases.

Two lawsuits have been filed in the case, including one by The Committee to Protect AR Families, which is the case where the cross-claim was filed. The group Fairness for Arkansans, backed by the Arkansas Bar Association, filed the other lawsuit to stop the amendment.

In another of the ballot initiatives, Arkansans for Compassionate Care 2016, the group backing the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, reported raising $10,139 during August, increasing its totals to $160,787.43. It has spent $134,390.48. The largest donation in August came from Anne Holland Ventures of Pawtucket, R.I. Its website says it’s an online publisher of “marijuana business media.”

The group Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana raised $1,000 from the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and has not spent any money.