Lawsuit against Conway reaches high court

A court order that prohibited two Faulkner County citizens from filing pleadings in a lawsuit against the city of Conway and Conway Corporation has been reversed by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The lawsuit concerns the city’s exercise of its eminent domain power to secure a strip of privately owned land in the Lollie Bottoms area. The land was taken by the city in a September 2011, condemnation action to install a water pipeline as part of the new wastewater treatment facility there.

The case was set for trial on Oct. 12, 2012, but on that day landowners Karen Cooper and Jack Dowell were granted a continuance, postponing the trial. Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio approved the order, which conditioned the continuance on Cooper and Dowell’s paying the city and Conway Corporation attorney’s fees and costs incurred in preparing for trial, including expert witness fees and juror fees.

With a restructuring of criminal and civil cases within the Circuit Court, the case was transferred to Circuit Judge H.G. Foster in December 2012. In January, Foster entered an additional order to postpone the trial. This order referenced the previous condition that Cooper and Dowell pay attorney’s fees and costs, set this amount at $21,345, and barred them from filing further pleadings “until such time as the attorney’s fees and costs awarded herein and the jury costs awarded herein are paid-in-full.”

In February, the city and Conway Corp filed to garnish Cooper and Dowell’s wages to collect the attorney’s fees and costs. In response, the landowners filed a motion with the Arkansas Supreme Court arguing that saddling them with the city’s attorney’s fees and barring them from further pleadings was an abuse of the court’s discretion and in excess of its jurisdiction. On March 14, the Supreme Court ordered a halt to proceedings in the case, including garnishment.

The Supreme Court agreed, and on Oct. 3 issued an opinion directing the Circuit Court to rescind the order in its entirety. A prohibition from further filings may be appropriately ordered by a court to curb “a pattern of groundless and vexatious litigation,” but the Supreme Court found nothing in the record of this case “to support or provide any basis for the circuit court’s prohibition of filing additional pleadings, and the limitation infringes upon Cooper and Dowell’s access to the courts.”

Foster said on Wednesday that he drafted and entered a new order earlier this week striking the previous one “as though that one was never entered.”

A Supreme Court decision is also pending as to whether attorneys Gary Jiles and Matthew Brown, who represent the city and Conway Corporation in this case, violated the Supreme Court’s order to cease garnishment. Both denied the claim before the Supreme Court in September and have requested a hearing.

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at joe.lamb@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)

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