A counter motion filed Tuesday in Faulkner County Circuit Court by the State of Arkansas claims Juvenile Court and Fifth Division Judge Rhonda Wood can hear the criminal case against Faulkner County Administrator Jeff Johnston.
The motion was filed by Deputy Prosecutor Troy Braswell on behalf of Prosecutor Cody Hiland only a day before Johnston was set to appear in court for a pretrial hearing.
The State’s response cites that pursuant to Arkansas Constitutional Amendment 80, 60(A), courts are “established as the trial courts of original jurisdiction of all justifiable matters not otherwise assigned,” and further reads that “any sitting circuit judge may sit in any division.”
“The creation of divisions shall in no way limit the powers and duties of the judges to hear all matters within the jurisdiction of the circuit court,” the amendment reads.
In closing, the brief states that “if the Court were to determine it no longer retained jurisdiction” over the matter, “a dismissal is not warranted ... (and) a transfer to the next available Court or Circuit Clerk would be appropriate.”
Joe Don Winningham, counsel for Johnston, filed a reply to the response on Tuesday afternoon, claiming that counsel would “fall short of his obligation to defend his client if he failed to raise the legitimate issue of the failure to follow the Administrative Plan of the Twentieth Judicial District in (Johnston’s) case.”
Winningham said the administrative plan dictates that all criminal cases within the 20th Judicial District are assigned to either Judge Charles Clawson or Judge David Reynolds, and that neither Clawson nor Reynolds entered an order recusing from the case.
“In particular, Judge Reynolds, who is designated by the Plan to hear criminal cases, was not even given the opportunity to consider the case,” the reply says.
Winningham further claims that judges authorized to hear criminal cases must recuse from the case “before a judge not authorized by the Plan to hear such cases may accept the transfer.”
The reply ends by stating that a transfer of the case is “simply not sufficient to cure the finding of probable cause,” nor for the issuance of a warrant for Johnston’s arrest “without authority.”
Johnston will appear before Judge Wood at 1 p.m. Wednesday in courtroom E.
He was arrested in August for the alleged use of $3,800 in county funds for asphalt work to his driveway.
Johnston has pleaded innocent to the charge.