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Thursday: An open line and the headline roundup

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 12:27 PM PST

The open line and the daily roundup of news and comment.

Stolen chickens no longer block run for office

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 11:17 AM PST

A change in state law has opened the door for public service by people with past criminal records that previously disqualified them.

That was the ruling today in Circuit Court in Seary County. Judge David Clark said Kenny Cassell was eligible to run for sheriff despite a misdemeanor federal conviction for receiving stolen Cornish hens in 1979, when he was 20.

Cassell was elected sheriff in 2010, then removed from office on a petition by the prosecutor on account of his past record. The ruling said that he had been convicted of an "infamous crime" — a disqualifier as a crime of dishonesty, even though a misdemeanor, in the state Constitution.

But in 2016, voters approved a Constitutional amendment that changed grounds for removal from office. Infamous crime for purpose of disqualfication now only includes a misdemeanor "in which the finder of fact was required to find, or the defendant to admit, an act of deceit, fraud or false statement." Cassell said he wanted to try to run again this year and the prosecutor again objected.

Cassell did not plead to a crime that met that standard, his attorneys argued in seeking a ruling he was eligible to run. He possessed — and knew he possessed — stolen chickens.  But his lawyers said in the brief on which a summary judgment was awarded :

While other portions of the statute mention the unlawful obtaining by fraud or deception from various types of vehicles or common carriers, those portions of the statute are irrelevant to Cassell's guilty plea, which merely stemmed from his receipt of chicken chattel, not any active fraudulent or deceitful obtaining of chicken chattel by theft as described in the statute.
In upholding Cassell's previous removal from the ballot, the Arkansas Supreme Court had said his conviction involved dishonesty. But the new amendment was intended to remove "dishonesty" from the characteristics of misdemeanors deemed "infamous," the judge effectively ruled in adopting the plaintiff's motion.

Chris Burks and Blake Hoyt represented Cassell.

No word yet if the prosecutor will seek a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court, which, prior to the 2016 amendment, had made clear a couple of times that misdemeanor theft (once a charge involving campaign signs) was sufficient for removal from office.

North Little Rock School District investigating guard's shoving of student

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 09:26 AM PST

The North Little Rock School District is investigating the handling of a student by a district security officer this week, Superintendent Kelly Rodgers says.

The incident at North Little Rock High School went public after it occurred Monday with Facebook posting of a video that appears to have been taken with a cell phone camera in the room at the time.

Rodgers said he couldn't comment on specifics because the event was under investigation and had been reported to appropriate authorities. The North Little Rock police are investigating, according to a report on KARK.

The Facebook video begins after the confrontation had begun. The officer shoves the student after the student grabbed his arm at one point. The officer's shoving continues as the student tells the officer to get his hands off.

The school has video cameras that will provide a record of the incident and they will be used in the district investigation.

The parents of the student told KARK they commend their son "for holding his composure and not reacting to the abuse that he was subjected to."

Lawsuit over Anne Pressly's medical records remains alive

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 09:24 AM PST

The Arkansas Supreme Court today kept alive a damage suit filed by the mother of slain KATV anchor Anne Pressley over unauthorized sharing of her medical records when she was hospitalized after she was raped and beaten in her home in October 2008. She died of the injuries.

The Supreme Court upheld Judge Leon Johnson's finding that Presley's mother and estate administrator, Patricia Cannady, could not pursue an invasion of privacy claim because privacy protections don't extend to other parties and the claim ended at Pressley's death.

The Supreme Court, however, said a trial was required on a claim of "outrage" by Cannady. The hospital argued this claim also did not survive Presley's death. The Supreme Court said, however, that this point of law was not yet ripe for decision. It said Johnson had not made a final ruling that a claim of outrage could or could not be pursued, though he did dimiss a claim that the hopsital could be held responsible for actions of employes. Johnson noted that some material facts remained to be decided. This leaves the claim of outrage to go to trial in circuit court.

The suit was filed against St. Vincent Infirmary, where Pressley was hospitalized; two hospital employees, Candida Griffin and Sarah Miller, and a physician. Dr. Jay Holland. The doctor and employees were accused in the suit of accessing Presley's medical records without good reason, in Holland's case from his home.

Justice Josephine Hart dissented. She wrote:

The elephant in the room throughout the long procedural history of this case—Ms. Cannady filed her first complaint on October 16, 2009—has always been whether the conduct complained of actually supported a cause of action recognized in Arkansas law.
Ms. Cannady asserted two theories to address the unauthorized viewing of her daughter's medical records: the tort of invasion of privacy and the tort of outrage. The former was eliminated when this court partially affirmed a directed verdict in Cannady v. St. Vincent Infirmary Med. Ctr. That left only the tort of outrage.

In my view, the allegations in Ms. Cannady's complaint simply do not constitute the tort of outrage. To establish an outrage claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate the following elements: (1) the actor intended to inflict emotional distress or knew or should have known that emotional distress was the likely result of his conduct; (2) the conduct was "extreme and outrageous," was "beyond all possible bounds of decency," and was "utterly intolerable in a civilized community"; (3) the actions of the defendant were the cause of the plaintiff's distress; and (4) the emotional distress sustained by the plaintiff was so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it. 
But Hart said that if an outrage claim can be pursued, then there are issues of fact that could be considered as to the hospital's liability, including whether its training of employees had been sufficient to prevent them from snooping in records without authorization.

The St. Vincent employees were fired. They and Holland pleaded guilty to misdemeanor privacy law violations. Curtis Vance is serving a life sentence for Pressley's murder.

Gerry Schulze, one of Cannady's attorneys, said he was disappointed by the ruling because he thinks it will make it harder to sue large businesses for actions of their employees, they can simply say, "We told them not to do that." But he said they were prepared to pursue the case remaining.

John Newman retrospective, at Art Ventures

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 09:07 AM PST

For folks in Fayetteville, a trip to Art Ventures (nee Fayetteville Underground, 101 Mountain St.) is in order to see the gallery's retrospective of works by University of Arkansas emeritus art professor John Newman. It's a rare opportunity to see Newman's work, which has been exhibited in Little Rock and numerous other places but which you won't find on the internet. I deeply regret not buying a Newman silkscreen (as I recall) print exhibited at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean several years ago: It was an image of African-American children looking through a barbed-wire fence at children interned at Rohwer. (Newman lived in Rohwer until he was 5; in 2006, he and former Minidoka, Idaho, internee Roger Shimomura collaborated for the show, "Views from Both Sides of the Barbed Wire Fence" at the Baum Gallery at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway.)

Newman taught at the U of A from 1990 to 2013. His artist's statement:

"I consider myself an artist whose work is a commentary on social issues and social circumstances. These come from my own memories, talking with my family and friends who understand my own life, reaching out to individuals who are very different from me but may have parallel circumstances to which I can relate, and responding to societal constructs and norms that affect me. I have attempted in my work to capture people's candid emotional circumstances and situations, including my own."
Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Phone is 479-439-8641.

Barkus on Main: A Mardi Gras parade for the dogs

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 08:55 AM PST

Downtown Little Rock Partnership is hosting the 2nd Annual Barkus on Main. Presented by Hounds Lounge Pet Resort and Spa, this free and family friendly event will take place Sunday, February 11th on Main Street, along the Creative Corridor in downtown Little Rock.

The fun kicks off at noon and will feature live music, a beer garden and hurricane station, gumbo, crawfish boil, plenty of beads, and of course the Mardi Gras dog parade! The parade will begin at 2:00 p.m. at the intersection of 7th and Main Streets and travel up Main to its intersection with 4th Street.

After the parade, join Downtown Little Rock Partnership for a Mardi Gras Block Party, which will already be in progress in the 300 block of Main Street with other hosts: Soul Fish Café, Brewski's Pub & Grub, CJRW and Samantha's Tap Room and Grill.
Registration for one dog is $30.00. The first 200 dogs to arrive will receive a complimentary Wag Bag, and all dogs will be eligible for prizes. Prizes will be awarded for Best Pet/Owner Look a-like Costumes, Best Dressed Pet, Best Small Dog Costume, Best Large Dog Costume, Most Original Costume, Best Float and Judge's Choice.

Want to enter your pets in the parade? Go to centralarkansastickets.com/events/barkus-on-main.

For more information about Barkus on Main, sponsorship or volunteering, check barkusonmain.com or call Downtown Little Rock Partnership at 501-375-0121.

Blueprints: 'Women are Stronger' by Duvall opens at Arts & Science Center

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 08:28 AM PST

Margo Duvall, associate professor of photography at Henderson State University, imprints cyanotype images on fabric for her installation "The Women Are Stronger," which opens today (Feb. 8) at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff.

Cyanotype is a 19th-century invention that uses iron salts to create a blue image (such as blueprints, and Duvall uses it on a number of surfaces. Duvall will talk about her work at a reception tonight from 5-7 p.m. at the Arts & Science Center.

Little Rock alters cop recruit bonus to require payback for those who quit

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 07:37 AM PST

City Manager Bruce Moore has altered a $5,000 new recruit bonus for Little Rock police officers that drew criticism when two recruits quit the force after drawing the bonus and working for only a few months.

The situation was highlighted by City Board candidate Russ Racop.

Under the new policy, a recruit who leaves in the first year of employment must repay the $5,000 and a recruit who leaves in the second year must repay $2,500.

Moore's memo on the change noted that only two recruits had left after completing training in the last three classes of recruits. The rule won't apply to those who signed up for the recruit class beginning this month because, Moore said, they were already recruited.

Here's his memo.

State delays privatizing youth centers

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 07:16 AM PST

Benji Hardy reports for the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network on a delay of at least a year in the state's intention to turn over youth lockups to private operators for at least a year.

Part of the issue is a continued look at just exactly what shape juvenile facilities should take — for example should there be some less secure facilities for some young people rather than all secure facilities.

A change has been delayed at least until July 2019. The state operates seven facilities. Some have been in the spotlight in recent days for poor conditions.

Blowback continues for Sen. Bart Hester's slam of UALR dance major billboard

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 06:14 AM PST

A post on the Arkansas Blog Monday
about Sen. Bart Hester's slam of UALR for renting a billboard that promotes the school's dance major (the only one in Arkansas) has engendered a great deal of commentary and press coverage and little repentance from Hester.

* TWEETBACK: Hester's Tweet has drawn 197 responses, few of them kind.

He'd written: "Why higher ed does NOT need increase funding. They lease a sign to encourage computer science degrees or mother teachers? No they push for dance majors. Lots of hard working Arkansans subsidizing this! Not OK @ualr."

Some responses were polite and thoughtful — about the uplifting value of all education, about people who've moved from dance to what Hester would consider productive careers. Some were profane. They were on point.

* THERE SHE GOES, MISS AMERICA: Savvy Shields, the former Miss America, weighed in:

She later noted a Google study that found critical thinking and lifelong learning are more important than STEM skills. And she noted the millions in economic impact in Northwest Arkansas from arts activities, from Crystal Bridges to many other venues.

* CAREFUL RESPONSE: State employees, particularly those in higher education with its shrinking state support (as a percentage of operational costs), are reluctant to challenge bombastic and vindictive legislators such as Hester (remember when he threatened to cut the UA for officials' personal support of a Fayetteville non-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT people?). And speaking of bombast, Republican Rep. Bullet Bob Ballinger threw in with Hester's disdain for liberal arts, too. He commented: "How is art education crucial to the advancement of Arkansas?" How Ballinger's law education at taxpayer-supported UA has advanced Arkansas is another good question.

UALR offered this careful response, as noted in Arkansas Democrat-Gazette online:

Judy Williams, UALR's associate vice chancellor of communications and marketing, said the billboard is one of several marketing tools in a campaign that features students in various programs.

"Our university offers the only dance performance program in Arkansas," Williams said in an emailed statement. "This is only one ad in the campaign."

Other UALR programs spotlighted include engineering, biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, economics, nursing and American sign language.

Williams said the marketing campaign "is designed to introduce prospective students and the community to the variety of majors and programs that are available."

* UNREPENTANT: When KATV jumped on the story, Hester didn't back down.

"There's priorities. That our state needs a dance degree is less of a priority than a math teacher," he said. "Go talk to your local principal or superintendent. They need math teachers. We have different priorities. I would like to see our higher education push the priorities and needs of our state."
Hester's own Facebook page shows him enjoying a bit of line dancing, insisted he meant no criticism of dancing or the arts. It's just state advertising of it, he said.

Legislative dancers include former Rep. Julie Mayberry, who has operated a dance studio, and current Sen. Missy Irvin, whose degree from  Randolph Macon, a private college for women in Virginia, included a dance focus.

But, hey, those are wimmin.  We need to spend Arkansas money only on manly (or, not to be sexist, important) stuff.

Which led me to wonder: How come the UA-Fayetteville doesn't have a major in plumbing? Presumably Hester would be down with a billboard advertising THAT.

Drawing from the writing of others, I'd suggest more seriously to Hester that there's great worth — to students and taxpayers — in encouraging a discipline in which students articulate a problem, collaborate with others, devise a solution that requires mastery of mental and physical elements and promotes growth in students in the process. I think they call that education.

They say Hester wants to be governor or senator some day. Think for a minute about tax dollars subsidizing that.

PS: WHATABOUT DEPARTMENT: Ann Clemmer, a former legislator and current Higher Education Department official, posted the following on Twitter this morning, then deleted it, coincidentally, a few minutes after this post appeared.

It is "lynching" to criticize Bart Hester? I guess for a party that believes it's treasonous to criticize Donald Trump, this is now par for the course.

UPDATE: Clemmer informs me she didn't "delete" the post but made it a reply to Hester That is harder for the world to see and even more shameful that she'd stand up for a comment comparing spoken criticism of a legislator with the act of hanging black people from trees.

Leslie Rutledge's priorities: A Kentucky T-shirt maker, but not low-wage Arkansans

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 05:21 AM PST

Events Thursday sharply illustrated Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's priorities:

* ANTI-GAY: She boasted of her intervention in a state court case in Kentucky defending a T-shirt maker who refused to make his services available for an order of T-shirts for a local "Pride Festival." The festival supports equal treatment of LGBT people. It's a religious freedom issue, see?

In the brief, the attorneys general state: "It is one thing to compel a business to serve people on an equal basis without regard to sexual orientation; it is quite another thing to compel a person to print t-shirts that communicate a message that he or she believes to be profoundly wrong."
And making it difficult for others to enjoy the fruits of the constitution equally is also quite a thing.

Also: Religious freedom in Rutledge's eyes does not extend to Judge Wendell Griffen and his desire to depict the crucified Christ on Good Friday. But that's not my point today.

* ANTI-WORKER: A coalition of attorneys general was at work in another venue yesterday, but this is NOT an interest Rutledge shares. Officials from 16 other states are challenging a Trump administration Labor Department proposal to snag tip income from workers and give it to their bosses.

The change, announced in early December by the U.S. Department of Labor, would rescind portions of a 2011 Obama rule that mandated tipped workers keep their tips. Under the proposed rule change, certain employers could pool tips to share with "back of the house" workers, like cooks and dishwashers, to ensure more equitable pay between tipped and nontipped workers, the Labor Department said — a concept supported by the Illinois Restaurant Association

But [Illinois Attorney General Lisa] Madigan and others say the rule change would allow employers to take the money that tipped workers earned and pocket it for their own gain. A half million Illinois workers could lose their tips under the rule change, Madigan's office said. On Monday, the 17 attorneys general, all Democrats, co-signed formal comments in opposition to the proposed change.

"The Department of Labor's proposal is outrageous. Not only do workers deserve the money they have earned for the service they provided, but millions of customers who leave tips expect that money to go to the employee who helped them," Madigan said in a statement.
General Rutledge? General Rutledge?