I didn’t go to law school
My mom wanted me to go to law school. She was probably right. She was usually right. I like to think I could have made a decent lawyer. A good civil argument certainly doesn’t bother me. But I’m not sure I could have found a way to pay for my law studies, and you have to have a college degree to get into law school. And you actually have to go to class (or at least you did in the late 80s) to get a college degree. And I was drawn to a career in newspapers. Add it all up, and here I am.
Ironically, I am quite frequently asked to write about legal issues – sometimes very complicated legal issues, like the SWEPCO fiasco a few years ago or the infamous $18 fee more recently. I like to think I do well to write about legal matters, even though I’m not a lawyer and certainly don’t get paid as such.
If there’s one law I’m familiar with, it’s the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. When I believe a government entity is violating FOIA – as the Carroll County Quorum Court did at its last meeting in August. 15 — I am generally right.
It’s fair to say that some members of the quorum court are angry with Maj. Jerry Williams, deputy chief of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. They would like to get rid of him, but they don’t have the legal power to demote or fire him. However, they control the amount of money allocated to the sheriff’s office.
So the idea was to withdraw the money that pays Williams’ salary.
Let me be clear on a few points: I neither agree nor disagree with the thoughts of some justices of the peace on Major Williams, nor do I say that they intentionally broke the law by going into executive session on August 15 to discuss a proposal. to “cancel” Williams’ position. My belief is that they thought they were doing the right thing, based on advice from attorneys.
My belief is also that they clearly violated the FOIA. They broke the law, even unwittingly, and two lawyers advised them to do so.
The law allows a governing body to meet in executive session only for certain purposes, mostly personnel-related – hiring, firing, promotion, demotion, etc. But if a governing body does not have the authority to hire, fire, or take any other action regarding an individual employee, how can that body meet in executive session to discuss such action? In the end, this was all an endgame in an effort to effectively fire Williams, despite the quorum court’s lack of authority to do so.
I protested at the time, to no avail. Assistant District Attorney Steve Simmons insisted the executive session was allowed because its end result would result in a dismissal or demotion.
Ultimately, the quorum court approved the order quashing Williams’ position. County Judge Ronda Griffin vetoed it the next day, citing procedural issues.
When District 3 Justice of the Peace Harrie Farrow expressed concerns about whether to go to executive session, District 7 Justice of the Peace Kellie Matt pointed out that Simmons “went to the faculty of right”. Yes, he did, graduating from Texas Tech School of Law in 1995. And Mr. Simmons and I had a civil conversation about the matter. We disagreed but we weren’t disagreeable, to steal a turn of phrase from a witty friend.
However, I was right. I didn’t go to law school. But, at least when it comes to freedom of information law, I know the law.
Scott Loftis is editor of Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is SLoftis@cherryroad. com.