On Tuesday, Aug. 28 retired Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck spoke to members of the Clark County Bar Association in Arkadelphia, on behalf of the Defending Your Day in Court Legislative Question Committee.

On Tuesday, Aug. 28 retired Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck spoke to members of the Clark County Bar Association in Arkadelphia, on behalf of the Defending Your Day in Court Legislative Question Committee.
Justice Tuck exclaimed to the group of local lawyers she was “steamed up by the assault on the Judiciary threatened by Issue 1,” a proposed constitutional amendment placed by the legislature on the November 6, 2018, election ballot.
Tuck explained this was a nonpartisan violation of “separation of powers,” and she has spoken to Republican and Democratic groups about this being an access to justice issue for everyone in Arkansas.
Part of ninth grade common core education requires that students learn about the three branches of government, their roles, and the checks and balances that keep each branch working effectively and fairly for all.
Justice Tuck described how Issue 1 will effectively cripple the judicial branch in civil matters by giving the legislature power to write the court rules instead of being written by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
“Issue 1 effectively puts politics into the judicial branch if passed. Legislators can accept monetary contributions and work to pass laws tilting the scales of justice in favor of contributors with money and access. A judge must recuse himself or herself if they accept campaign money, because they represent the law. The legislature makes its own rules, which neither the executive branch of government nor the judicial branch of government have power over. There is no reason to allow the legislative branch to grab more power by allowing it to change court rules, which would interfere with the impartial administration of justice for Arkansas’ citizens,” noted Justice Tuck.
“Under Issue 1, the legislature could change court rules and restrict what evidence the court can see at your trial. This could include requiring your case be heard by a screening panel before allowing your case to go to court. In divorce cases, allowing one party to request mandatory counseling could automatically delay your case. Ordinary people could be kept out of court by requiring the losing party in all cases to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees,” continued Justice Tuck.
Justice Tuck explained the Judiciary has a check and balance by the election of judges through the ballot box. To change court rules the Judiciary uses committees with representatives from different points of view, and then has a time period allowing for public comment, before new rules are adopted by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The Judicial branch already has special rules and regulations in place to make sure the court system runs smoothly. In contrast, at times the legislature quickly passes legislation with information on how to vote being provided by lobbyists and special interest groups.
“Issue 1 is not about frivolous lawsuits,” Tuck said. “It’s about meritorious lawsuits. The judicial system already has a way of dealing with frivolous lawsuits, where they are thrown out and attorneys who bring them are disciplined under Rule 11. It’s not even about runaway juries or unfair verdicts. Punitive damages are already dealt with under remittitur (the trial judge and the appeals court have discretion to reduce an excessive jury verdict).”
Justice Tuck discussed the unsupported arguments being made in favor of Issue 1 and noted, “2003 Texas tort reform led to the worst nursing homes in the United States.” She quoted former Mena Mayor Chad Gallagher, who served on a local hospital board, that tort reform would not improve the current state of medical care in Arkansas.
When asked what entices good physicians to move to the area, he stated the main reasons were money, support staff, and population base. Tort reform was not even mentioned in physician recruitment negotiations.
Another myth is that tort reform creates more jobs, which is false as shown by Arkansas’ current record low unemployment rate. Arkansas is working to provide a better educated and skilled work force, which is the key to attracting jobs.
In discussing another section of Issue 1 to limit attorney’s fees, Justice Tuck commented, “Issue 1 isn’t going to limit all attorney’s fees. It only limits plaintiff attorneys’ contingency fees. Which will mean lawyers won’t be able to take many cases. This is unfair because there is no limit imposed on how much insurance companies and powerful interests can pay their attorneys.”
Issue 1 directly targets individuals who cannot afford an attorney, who will lose the keys to the courthouse if unable to employ attorneys on a contingent fee basis.
Another section of Issue 1 caps noneconomic damages at $500,000, which puts a price tag on human life and serious injuries. It effectively makes those who are wealthy worth more than those who are not, and limits the ability of children, seniors and stay at home parents without jobs to be fairly compensated by jury verdicts when they are wronged.
Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck was the first woman elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1997, from which she retired in 2009, and previously served as a state court trial judge. She served on many committees including the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, the Supreme Court Committee on Civil Practice, and the Continuing Legal Education Board. She has served on the boards of many non-profit organizations.
To learn more about Defending Your Day in Court (DDay) Legislative Question Committee please visit www.keeppoliticsout.com. To contact DDay directly email team@keeppoliticsout.com or please call Mariah Hatta at (501) 231-9208.