Russellville’s Fifth Judicial Circuit Judge William Pearson ruled against a request for attorney fees in a case that sought to impose an ordinance that called for the locals’ vote before Pope County’s Quorum Court gave the nod to a new casino application. The request was made on behalf of Pope County’s Judge Ben Cross and the Quorum Court, the entity responsible for spending and revenue collection.
In November, residents rejected Amendment 100, which was to allow new gaming venues on the territory of the Pope and Jefferson Counties. The anti-casino group Citizens for a Better Pope County insisted there should be a referendum ordinance under which the residents were to vote whether they wanted the officials to support a new casino applicant.
However, the ordinance was struck down and the Quorum Court went on to approve the casino proposal of the Cherokee tribe without the locals’ vote. The Citizens proceeded to file an appeal against this decision.
Judge Ben Cross and the Quorum Court then decided to seek a ruling that was to force the local group to cover the attorney fees in case of an unsuccessful suit. According to Circuit Judge Pearson, there is no justification for the group paying the attorney fees.
The ordinance was given the green light last month at the same statewide election during which Arkansas voters approved the casino gambling expansion. Pope County did not participate in the voting process, however. Instead, the county officials gave the thumbs-up to the Cherokee casino application without a county-wide vote as was required by the ordinance.
The Ordinance Is Unconstitutional, Says Judge Pearson
Judge Pearson pronounced that the ordinance was unconstitutional because the locals did not get the chance to voice their position on the state gambling expansion that extended to Pope County. Attorney fees are expected to build up in the future since the appeal of the ordinance decision has now been taken to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Some members of the casino-expansion opposition were not entirely happy with the fact Judge Pearson refused to withdraw from the case. One opponent even went as far as to file an ethics complaint against the Circuit Judge.
The reason for the complaint was a post on Pearson’s Facebook campaign page, which referred to a statement by Judge Cross who touted his decision against the ordinance. It turned out the post was made by volunteers from Pearson’s re-election campaign. They admitted to their mistake and took down the post from the page.
Additionally, Judge Pearson explained there are no grounds for his disqualification because the Facebook post was made after he had already arrived at a decision. Therefore, the message had no impact on his ruling.
Meanwhile, Circuit Judge Timothy Fox is dealing with another suit filed by a Mississippi gambling operator that claims to be qualified to get a permit for Pope County. As we already mentioned, the county Quorum Court approved the application of the Cherokee tribe.
Judge Fox tried to send the lawsuit to Pope County but this did not work out. The lawful jurisdiction for this suit is in Pulaski County because the appeal was made by Gulfside Casino Partnership. The latter is an entity based outside Pope County.