Both sides on Issue 1 promised an aggressive campaign and possibly the first volley was fired Thursday (July 12) when former Judge Marion Humphrey filed a lawsuit seeking to keep the proposed constitutional amendment off the November ballot.
Humphrey, a former Pulaski County Circuit Judge, filed the motion for a preliminary injunction with the Pulaski County Circuit Court.
“Issue 1 is a power grab fueled by the corruption we have seen in our legislature,” Humphrey said in a statement. “If Issue 1 passes, our state’s judiciary will simply become another agency controlled by lobbyists and special interests whose recent acts have proven to be ethically and morally bankrupt.”
Issue 1 is one of two measures placed on the ballot by Arkansas legislators. The measure received 21 out of 35 votes in the Senate and 66 of 100 votes in the House. Issue 1 proposes to amend the Constitution as follows:
• Cap contingency fees in civil actions at 33 1/3 of the recovery;
• Cap punitive damages at $500,000 or 3 times the amount of the compensatory damages, whichever is greater;
• Cap non-economic damages at $500,000; and,
• Allow the legislature to adopt rules of pleading, practice and procedure.
Humphrey argues in the filing that Issue 1 would be illegal because it brings together four amendment changes that are required to be voted on separately, and that it “violates the fundamental concept of democracy in the separation of powers section of the Arkansas Constitution.” He also alleges the measure restricts citizen access to legal remedies.
“This ballot measure severely limits the ability of ordinary citizens to exercise their constitutional rights to a jury trial or hire an attorney with no limits on the amount of money insurance carriers can spend on their defense lawyers,” said Humphrey. “It corrupts the Arkansas Constitution by logrolling four issues and misrepresenting them as one. Most dangerously, however, it destroys the basic and fundamental separation of powers, the bedrock on which our great nation was founded.”
Carl Vogelpohl, campaign manager for the pro-Issue 1 group Arkansans for Jobs and Justice, said Humphrey’s lawsuit indicates that those opposed to Issue 1 are afraid they will lose in November.
“It is time Arkansans be provided the opportunity to vote on lawsuit reform,” Vogelpohl, said in a statement sent to Talk Business & Politics. “Despite efforts of a previous General Assembly, and other interested parties, lawsuit reform in Arkansas has been blocked as a result of litigation. Issue 1 is a policy decision that has been appropriately referred to the people by the legislature and should, once and for all, be decided by the people. I am confident that our Supreme Court will ultimately let the people decide. … Once again, trial lawyers are attempting to use the court to protect their own pocketbooks by seeking to deny Arkansas voters a voice.”