The Arkansas Supreme Court today awarded attorney fees in the lawsuit brought by Mike Wilson, the Jacksonville lawyer and former legislator, over the legislature’s unconstitutional distribution of the so-called General Improvement Fund at the direction of state legislators.
It was a long and winding road to fees in the case and the Supreme Court was split 4-3 on the award of $323,266 in fees to Wilson’s lawyer, John Ogles. It agreed with Piazza’s ruling that Wilson was not entitled to interest on the fees from the time the suit was filed until it was finally decided on the merits.
Wilson sued the Central Arkansas Planning Development to stop its distribution of the surplus money controlled by Central Arkansas legislators in a scheme that sent tens of millions around the state. He won the case, though only about $1 million was unspent before Wilson finally stopped the pork-barreling. He’s had to fight the state multiple times for attorney fees.
The Supreme Court today said Ogles and Wilson had justified the fee sought for four years of litigation and that they were not excessive, just as the lower court judge, Chris Piazza had held after being sent the case back for testimony on the amount of work the lawyers had done. It upheld Piazza on denial of interest on the amount owed from the date of the filing to the final judgment, about $65,000.
Chief Justice Dan Kemp and Justices Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack all dissented from the majority decision upholding the attorney fees. Kemp cited his previous ruling against attorney fees, which said they simply were barred by sovereign immunity. Womack said the fee was unreasonable and Wood concurred with that assessment.
This much is clear, without attorney fees and a dogged cuss like Mike Wilson, who’s sued the state twice over illegal local project spending, there would be no brake on legislative pork-barreling.
In addition to saving money from illegal spending, shutting down this process shut down what amounted to a far-reach web of illegal legislative activities. A fistful of criminal indictments for bribery and kickbacks have been related to General Improvement Fund spending.
The Supreme Court majority was Robin Wynne, Karen Baker, Jo Hart and Courtney Hudson. Baker wrote the majority opinion.