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Judge sanctions attorney in county administrator case

Posted: October 10, 2012 - 2:18pm

Conway attorney Joe Don Winningham was sanctioned and fined $5,000 on Wednesday by Fifth Division Judge Rhonda Wood for filing “an improper pleading” to dismiss the theft-of-property case against Faulkner County Administrator Jeff Johnston.

In August, prosecutors presented a warrant for Johnston's arrest to Wood for approval after Judge Charles E. Clawson reportedly declined to sign it.

Johnston pleaded innocent following his arrest for the alleged use of $3,800 in county funds for asphalt work to his driveway.

Last week, Winningham filed a motion seeking the dismissal of Johnston’s arrest warrant and felony charge based on a claim that criminal cases in the 20th Judicial District are assigned to either Clawson or Judge David Reynolds under an administrative plan approved in January by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, Wood called the motion to quash the warrant “frivolous and without a scintilla of merit,” and ruled that Winningham should return to or not charge Johnston any fees associated with “preparing or defending the frivolous argument,” before imposing Rule 11 sanctions for the filing of “an improper pleading” and ordering the hefty fine, payable to the county’s Victim Assistance Fund by Dec. 1, 2012 “to deter future conduct.”

“What further supports sanctions is that fact the counsel for the defense spent years as a prosecutor,” Wood said. “It is inexcusable for defense counsel to contend he did not know a well-established law.”

Wood gave Winningham 21 days to withdraw his pleading to void the sanctions, and said should he desire to be heard on the issue of sanctions “the court will give him the opportunity” at the next pretrial hearing, scheduled for Nov. 30.

Wood concluded by saying that if she is presented with an arrest warrant supported by law, it is her duty to sign it.

“I have signed arrest warrants for criminal division cases for six years and it’s never taken lightly,” Wood said.

Following the hearing, Winningham said he is unlikely to withdraw the motion, citing his confidence on the grounds for which the motion was filed.

“I never file a motion that I don't believe in,” Winningham said.

Johnston’s trial is set for Dec. 6-7.

(Megan Reynolds is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1277 or by e-mail at megan.reynolds@thecabin.net. To comment on this story and others, visit www.thecabin.net.)

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justspeakinthetruth
22
Points
justspeakinthetruth 10/10/12 - 03:13 pm
13
6

Way To Go!!

It's good to see Judge Wood do the right thing and stand up against this nonsense. Has anyone else noticed that nearly everyone associated with the County Judge's office is involved in some sort of illegal act or investigation?! Where there's smoke, there's fire!! If I was Mr. Winningham I'd run from this "group" as far and fast as I could!!

more of the same
307
Points
more of the same 10/10/12 - 04:21 pm
8
5

I've noticed

that there is some dirty politics going on and their are some that have it in for the County Judge's office and apparently will go to no end or go as low or dirty to damage their reputation and anything else they can take away.

my girl friday
5265
Points
my girl friday 10/10/12 - 04:30 pm
12
1

@ more of the same

Perhaps if the Judges Office stopped giving everyone so much ammunition (pun) then people would stop judging them so harshly. No wonder there is so much animosity between the Sheriff's Office and the Judges Office. Just what is going on in the Judges Office that we don't know about....

more of the same
307
Points
more of the same 10/11/12 - 05:21 pm
6
1

I wonder...

what's going on in the SO that we don't know about? It isn't all clean and squeaky over there by a long shot.

my girl friday
5265
Points
my girl friday 10/10/12 - 03:47 pm
12
9

Double like!!!!! I'm proud of

Double like!!!!! I'm proud of Judge Wood. Way to put your foot down and say enough is enough!!!! The Judges Office staff needs a serious "wake up" call. The County budget isn't there for their own personal amusement.....

i_wonder
27122
Points
i_wonder 10/10/12 - 03:50 pm
10
2

well

Unpublished

Maybe they can sell the .50 cal to pay the fine?

Senseable
238
Points
Senseable 10/10/12 - 03:52 pm
10
8

Time to do Better

It appears that The County Judge still has problems in hiring reaso9nable & ethical people. Just shows that we need to elect the other guy come time to Vote. Early voting starts Oct 22.

more of the same
307
Points
more of the same 10/10/12 - 04:03 pm
11
6

Time to do Better...

We need to elect the other guy when it comes time to elect the PA!

morgaroth
40
Points
morgaroth 10/10/12 - 03:55 pm
14
7

lest we forget

An attorney is an advocate for his/her client....that's the job. Winningham made a motion well-grounded in fact, and warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, which is what ARCP Rule 11 contemplates. He only did what any good attorney would have done, and he is a good attorney. This $5,000 fine is political "muscle flexing" by a judge who's taking a different office on Jan 1 (ark court of appeals), and wants to stir the pot before she leaves. Her order reads like a manifesto, and it's my understanding she was handing out "press copies" at the hearing. Whether or not Johnston is guilty or not has NOTHING to do with this.....this is based on whether Winningham acted properly in doing his job. Ask any attorney in town, and they will roll their eyes and tell you he completely acted within the scope of what Rule 11 contemplates.

my girl friday
5265
Points
my girl friday 10/10/12 - 03:58 pm
5
9

This was posted on another

This was posted on another website on Monday, I really didn't care for it...from Jeff. "New roof on the court house today to hopefully stop the water pouring in on the judges". Seemed a bit facetious to me and inappropriate.

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