Special Judge named to hear case of Arkansas Casino Ballot

A Jonesboro lawyer who once ran for Congress was appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday to serve as a special justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court for a case that challenges a proposal to build up to three casinos in Arkansas.

Republican Warren Dupwe, who ran unsuccessfully for Arkansas’ 1st Congressional District seat in 1996, will hear the case in place of Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson, who has recused herself.

Goodson did not cite a reason for her recusal last week, but financial disclosure forms filed during her campaign this year show that she and her husband had income from thoroughbred horse racing.

Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis are the two locations in Arkansas that are legally allowed to operate casinos under the supervision of the Arkansas Racing Commission. Both have announced opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment, also known as Issue 5, to authorize casinos in Miller, Washington and Boone counties.

Hutchinson has come out against the proposed amendment, which is on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

A lawsuit seeks to remove Issue 5 from the ballot. It challenges the validity of thousands of signatures that were gathered on petitions submitted to the secretary of state’s office on the casinos issue.

In another matter related to the case, former Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge John E. Jennings of Rogers was appointed earlier this week by the Supreme Court to oversee the review of the petition signatures.

Jennings will report his findings to the Supreme Court. Jennings, who served on the Court of Appeals from 1987-2002, was appointed after a previously chosen special master recused.

Justices on the Supreme Court have appointed special masters in three cases — including the lawsuit challenging the proposed constitutional amendment to authorize casinos — in which people opposing the proposed amendments and an initiated act have argued that petitioners improperly collected signatures submitted to the secretary of state’s office.

The lawsuits, challenging a medical-marijuana initiative and a health-care provider tort reform amendment, seek to either remove the proposals from the ballot or get a court order to prevent tallying the votes cast on those proposals.

The justices originally appointed former 1st Judicial Circuit Judge Bentley Story to serve as the special master in the case against the casino amendment in orders issued Sept. 9.

Story recused from the case in a letter sent to Chief Justice Howard Brill the next day, saying he had learned of a potential conflict of interest through his daughter-in-law, who works for a consulting firm contracted by Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs.

Retired judge J.W. Looney was appointed in the tort reform case, and former Court of Appeals Judge John Robbins is set to review signatures on the medical-marijuana initiative.

Metro on 09/16/2016