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The year of wrangling.

Succession, Law School, Cigarette Tax Top Legal Review of 1992

POLITICAL INTRIGUE dominated the legal scene in 1992, crowned by the courtroom furor over replacing Gov. Bill Clinton when he found a new house in Washington, D.C.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge John Plegge decided Nov. 5 that Jim Guy Tucker, the lieutenant governor, was the legal heir to the gubernatorial mantle but not the title and perks of the position.

Plegge's decision came in a suit filed by Art English, state board chairman of the political watchdog group Common Cause and a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The suit named as defendants Tucker, state Attorney General Winston Bryant and the state Democratic and Republican parties.

Bryant, who many consider a potential candidate for governor, had previously said the opening should be filled by a special election.

On Nov. 9, Bryant appealed Plegge's decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court, promising that he would not be a candidate if a special election were called.

The appeal untangled the hairy issue of whether Tucker actually would be "governor" or not.

At issue was the clash between Article 6, Amendment 6 and Amendment 29 of the state Constitution.

Article 6, adopted in 1974, says a special election is needed to fill the governor's office if there is a vacancy more than 12 months before the end of the governor's term.

Amendment 6, approved by voters in 1914, provides for the lieutenant governor to complete the governor's term.

And Amendment 29, approved by the voters in 1938, requires that vacancies in state and federal elected offices be filled by appointment of the governor, with the exception of lieutenant governor, state legislators and U.S. representatives.

In the end, the courts ruled for the obvious. Lt. Gov. Tucker became Gov. Tucker.

The Cigarette Tax

Another major legal decision came in the successful attempt to drive the proposed tobacco tax initiative from the Nov. 3 election ballot.

In a unanimous opinion, the Arkansas Supreme Court decided that 3,095 signatures on petitions presented by the pro-tax forces were forged or not properly certified.

A group called the Coalition for a Healthier Arkansas (CHAR) was proposing a 25-cent per pack sales tax on cigarettes and varying taxes on other tobacco products. The ballot issue was expected to raise $70 million a year for health care and substance abuse programs.

But on Aug. 20, the Arkansas Executive Committee, an anti-taxgroup that received at least $1.5 million from out-of-state tobacco interests, filed a suit in Arkansas Supreme Court to remove the proposed initiated act from the ballot.

Retired Circuit Judge Gerald P. Brown of Paragould was appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the case. After holding a three-day hearing, he advised the court on Oct. 13 that the tax initiative should be yanked from the ballot.

But the issue didn't die there.

Rep. Pat Flanagin of Forrest City announced he would introduce a bill in the 1993 General Session that would accomplish precisely the same thing as the dead ballot initiative.

Lawyers have to learn their trade somewhere, and in Little Rock, they finally have a facility to be proud of.

On Aug. 1, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law and Law Library moved into new buildings at 1201 McAlmont St. in Little Rock, removing a dark cloud from the school's accreditation.

"The most immediate impact of the new building hopefully will be that we will now have complete accreditation," says Howard Eisenberg, dean of the law school.

"In the past, it has been conditional on obtaining adequate space."

The law school formerly was located in cramped headquarters at 400 W. Markham St.

It took $10.3 million to gut and renovate the old building on McAlmont -- once the home of the medical sciences campus -- and add a 56,000-SF law library and large courtroom auditorium. The money was supplied by bonds and legislative appropriations.

"It has essentially tripled the space," Eisenberg says of the new law school. Shelf space in the library has increased sixfold.

Enrollment is capped at the school by the UA board of trustees, so it is not likely to rise soon over the 400 students now enrolled at the school.

Movie Theater Magnate Jailed

Tony Rand, the former Arkansas movie theater chain operator, was sentenced in federal court to seven years in prison and three additional years of supervised release in February.

Rand was accused of fraudulently obtaining about $17 million in financing in order to expand his national movie theater chain in a scheme that began around April 1987.

U.S. Attorney Chuck Banks said the crime affected 10 different financial institutions.

And let's not forget the fascinating case of Nellie Mitchell, the 97-year old Mountain Home woman who was said by the Sun to be pregnant.

Through Little Rock attorney Sandy McMath, Mitchell sued the tabloid in federal court. In December 1991, Mitchell was awarded $650,000 in compensatory damages and $850,000 in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and outrage.

It was a landmark case against tabloid journalism, and the biggest judgment of its kind in Arkansas history.

But in November 1992, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to U.S. District Judge Franklin Waters in Harrison for a substantial reduction of the compensatory damages. The liability and punitive damages were upheld on appeal, however.
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Title Annotation:The Year 1992 in Review; actions and defenses in Arkansas in 1992
Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Dec 28, 1992
Previous Article:Banking on Arkansas.
Next Article:Breaking a family trust.

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