The Times Record in Fort Smith reports discovery of suggestive detail in court proceedings in Fort Smith related to the troubled business dealings of Sen. Jake Files and his construction business.
A lawsuit against Files construction company says an $80,000 transfer was made to Files’ company from David Norsworthy, an investor with Michael Morton of Fort Smith in a number of nursing homes in Arkansas. The transfer was in 2014, one week after introduction in the Senate of a proposed constitutional amendment to limit punitive damages in civil lawsuits. This has long been an aim of the nursing home industry. That measure didn’t make the ballot but Files is a sponsor this year of a constitutional amendment endorsed by the legislature this year that will be before voters in 2018 to limit damages in civil lawsuits. CORRECTION: Eddie Joe Williams, not Files, was the sponsor of the resolution filed in 2014 on civil damages, which died in Senate committee.
Files declined to discuss the transfer with the newspaper, citing a protective order issued in the case in March 2015. Norsworthy didn’t respond to calls. The newspaper account notes that the protective order was entered about a month before Files received a $30,000 loan from lobbyist Bruce Hawkins, an extension of credit first reported by the Arkansas Times. The loan was legal, but widely criticized. Since then, the legislature has passed a law to make such loans illegal. Files used the money to cover hot checks.
Political contributions by nursing homes owned by Fort Smith businessmen have been controversial, both for heavy influence in judicial races from circuit court to Supreme Court and also because they figured in the successful bribery prosecution of former Circuit Judge Mike Maggio, who reduced a $5.2 million jury verdict against a nursing home to $1 million. No one but Maggio has been charged. Morton has defended contributions to Maggio as legal and not intended to influence his decisions. Much the same has been said by former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker, who arranged Morton contributions to Maggio and other judges, including Maggio friend and fellow Conwegian, Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood.