Arkansas Judicial System

Patricia Young, sister of executed inmate Ledell Lee (left), speaks to reporters during a press conference on Jan. 24 announcing the legal challenge to seek DNA testing that she argued could exonerate her brother.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

An Arkansas judge has approved an agreement that will allow new tests of fingerprint and DNA evidence that two groups say could exonerate a man executed in 2017.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen approved the agreement between the city of Jacksonville and the sister of Ledell Lee, who was executed for the 1993 slaying of Debra Reese.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Innocence Project had sued the city seeking the release of the evidence.

The first African-American municipal judge in America was from Arkansas. Mifflin Wistar Gibbs was elected a city judge in Little Rock in 1873. He was also a businessman, attorney, and active in the civil rights movement. Gibbs Elementary in Little Rock is named after him.

The word “Justice” is etched on the front of the Arkansas Supreme Court building with a V as the second letter instead of a U. This is because part of the basis for our system of law derives from Roman law and the Latin alphabet at one point didn’t have a U.

Up until the 17th Century, the Romans didn’t have a need for using separate letters for V, U or W. They used them interchangeably and they were pronounced in the same way. So, the use of V for U is a tribute to the neoclassical style.

The Arkansas Supreme Court began live-streaming its oral arguments in 2010 with the goal of giving citizens better access to the courts and the judicial process. When the Supreme Court is hearing a case, anyone with an internet connection can watch the proceedings live.

The public can also come to the Justice Building and watch any oral argument in-person in the Supreme Court courtroom.

As our nation becomes more and more diverse, the need for court interpreters continues to grow. Interpreting for a witness, defendant, victim, or lawyer during a court proceeding can ensure all people receive fair and equal access to justice.

Professional court interpreters are individuals who possess an educated, native-like mastery of both English and another language. In Arkansas, Spanish and Marshallese are the two most common languages requested for interpretation.

Arkansas' attorney general is asking the state Supreme Court to reassign cases involving her office from a judge who has been prohibited from handling execution cases, accusing him of regularly being biased against her staff.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Tuesday requested that the court reassign the civil cases from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. He was prohibited from handling execution cases in 2017 after he participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration the same day he blocked Arkansas from using a lethal injection drug.

Karen Tricot Steward / Arkansas Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used her appearance in Arkansas Tuesday to recount her life in law, and the reasoning behind her decisions and dissents of the past 26 years.

Ginsburg spoke to a sold out crowd at North Little Rock's Verizon Arena as part of the Clinton School of Public Service's Kumpuris Distinguished Lecture Series. The school's namesake, former President Bill Clinton introduced the justice he appointed to the nation's highest court in 1993.

Judge Mark Derrick
Bad Government In Arkansas Blog

A civil rights organization has filed a lawsuit alleging that an Arkansas district court judge is running an illegal “debtors’ prison” in White County. The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law contends that Judge Mark Derrick not only imposes excessive fines without evaluating the ability of defendants to pay, but also jails defendants for nonpayment 30 days at a time.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six plaintiffs, all residents of White County, who say they have been jailed or otherwise threatened with legal punishment for being unable to pay court-ordered fines.

Wendell Griffen
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that a lawsuit filed by an Arkansas judge against members of the state Supreme Court should be dismissed.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen originally sued the sitting justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court after he was barred from hearing cases regarding the death penalty.


An anonymous scientific survey conducted on the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville campus to measure the incidence of nonconsensual sexual contact revealed that 31 percent of women sampled reported being victims. Such contact includes campus rapes and sexual assaults as well as unwanted sexual touching.

The survey was conducted at the urging of an Arkansas legislator raising awareness about widespread sexual violence on college campuses, and that Arkansas is among more than a dozen states that do not teach comprehensive sex education in public schools — including what constitutes sexual consent.

Further illuminating the widely-reported UA survey, a female student who claims she was sexually assaulted carried around a bed sheet for weeks, raising alarm.

Primary elections are set for May 22, the same day as the deciding nonpartisan judicial election for Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice. Three candidates, including the incumbent, are vying for the seat.

Justice Courtney Goodson was elected in 2010, and is seeking another eight-year term on the bench. Arkansas Department of Human Services Chief Legal Counsel David Sterling and state Appeals Court Judge Kenneth Hixson are running to unseat Goodson. 

Facebook/Arkansas Secretary of State/Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

There’s one seat up for grabs on the Arkansas’s highest court, and it belongs to Justice Courtney Goodson.

She’s seeking another eight-year term, and has two challengers in the nonpartisan judicial election: state Appeals Court Judge Kenneth Hixson, and Department of Human Services Chief Counsel David Sterling.

And while all three say they want to focus on the issues, a bigger story has loomed large over the race. Both Goodson and Hixson have been the subject of T-V and online ads from dark money groups; ones that don’t have to disclose their donors.

The Arkansas Supreme Court says it'll hear oral arguments over a judge's decision to prevent the state from licensing companies to grow medical marijuana.

Justices on Monday agreed to hear arguments June 7 in the state's appeal of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's decision striking down the licensing process for medical marijuana cultivation facilities. Griffen ruled the process violated the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for certain medical conditions.

In 2005, Jaime Mann was cited for several traffic violations in Craighead County — not having insurance, not wearing a seatbelt, and hazardous driving. She was charged about $500. She paid some of it, but then she started racking up fees and fines for the money and community service hours she owed.  

 

"And then it started spiraling out of control, and I was so mad, I remember, because I thought, ‘I paid this ticket,'" she said.

Example of someone holding a chicken by its feet in a processing plant.
Image via U.S. Department of Defense

The ACLU of Arkansas is investigating claims that an organization in Oklahoma known as Christian Alcoholics and Addicts In Recover (CAAIR) "is operating forced labor camps disguised as rehabilitation centers", according to a press release.

Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen
PBS

The Arkansas Parole Board is halting action under the state's new law that eliminates mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles after a judge said it's unconstitutional.

KATV

A central Arkansas prosecutor has been nominated for a U.S. attorney post in the state.

The White House announced Thursday that President Donald Trump has nominated Cody Hiland to serve as U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Arkansas.

Hiland is currently the prosecuting attorney for the state's 20th judicial district, which includes Faulkner, Van Buren and Searcy counties. Hiland has formerly worked at the Arkansas Public Service Commission, the Arkansas Transitional Employment Board and is a former legislative liaison and aide for former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Arkansas officials are dropping their effort to block a request for the records related to the autopsy of an inmate who lurched and convulsed 20 times during his execution.

The state Crime Lab on Tuesday filed a motion to withdraw its request to quash the subpoena issued by public defenders who are challenging the state's execution procedures and want records related to Kenneth Williams' death. Williams was executed on April 27.

College Football Gets Arkansas To Change Its New Gun Law

Mar 31, 2017

This edition of KUAR's Week In Review podcast tackles the winding down of the legislative session. Lawmakers retread the concealed carry debate and carve out an exception for athletic events, UAMS, and the state hospital despite NRA opposition. The online sales tax finally gets past a committee hurdle and the bathroom bill gets pushed aside for another time as does highway funding.

A report released on Thursday by one of the nation’s top law schools concludes the state of Arkansas has ignored the mental states and legal representation of eight death row inmates scheduled to die next month. It’s the latest wrinkle in the state’s drive to kill eight inmates in 10 days.

Arkansans on death row have filed a lawsuit arguing the state’s 10-day timetable to execute eight inmates, with a controversial drug, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The motion for a preliminary injunction, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, asks for a stay in executions until the lawsuit is resolved.

File photo: Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking to reporters at the Capitol
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The state of Arkansas has secured a new supply of a lethal injection drug and is set to begin executing eight inmates in a 10-day period next month.

Difficulty stocking the three drugs used in lethal injections has thwarted the state’s efforts to kill inmates in the past, along with routine court challenges. But after a U.S. Supreme Court decision last month not to review Arkansas’s execution procedure the state is poised to resume executions after an 11-year lull.

Outside the Arkansas House chamber in the state Capitol building.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The Arkansas House has voted to place on the ballot a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ask voters to limit some attorney's fees and punitive damages in lawsuits.

The House voted 66-30 Monday for the joint resolution and sent it back to the state Senate to consider a House amendment. A previous version of the proposal passed the Senate earlier.

Supporters say the proposal would reduce legal judgments against health care providers, which they say would lead to a decrease in medical malpractice insurance rates.

Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, is dead…or is it? Last week the Arkansas Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision, invalidated about 12,000 signatures and consequently the ballot measure. On Monday, Attorney John Wesley Hall petitioned for a rehearing.

Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other state health officials urging opposition to two medical marijuana ballot measures.
David Monteith / KUAR News

A few talking points against two medical marijuana ballot measures, many of them familiar, have cropped up over the past few weeks as opponents continue to make their case in a string of press conferences. Supporters of medical marijuana have heard them before and have retorts at the ready.

A statue of Baphomet as a goat-headed figure flanked by two children could appear alongside the 10 Commandments at the state Capitol.
KFOR

The Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission is meeting next week to review proposals for a slate of new monuments. Tuesday’s review of monuments and memorials includes displays for the 10 Commandments, Satan, Gold Star Families, and atheists.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Arkansans very well may have two medical marijuana ballot measures to vote on in November, with the battle firmly immersed in both political and scientific debates. 

medical money medicine
Talk Business & Politics

A group opposed to a ballot proposal that would place limits on damages in medical lawsuits is asking Arkansas' highest court to block voting on the proposed constitutional amendment in November.

File photo. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R).
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is asking the nation's highest court to weigh in on whether a 1994 federal law prevents Arkansas State Police from releasing all driver and survivor information on accident reports.

Arkansas Inmates Given Funds To Study As Part Of Experimental Program

Aug 24, 2016
prison jail department of correction
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR

For the first time in over 20 years, Arkansas prisoners will have access to federal grants to go to college.

Shorter College in North Little Rock has been selected by the U.S. Department of Education as part of a three year experiment to send inmates to school.

Shorter College says it will offer a two-year associate degree in business to 250 selected inmates as part of the program.   

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