County attorney to represent election commission in Hollingsworth suit

Jefferson County Attorney Jackie Harris confirmed Wednesday afternoon that he will represent the Jefferson County Election Commission in a lawsuit filed Tuesday by Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth filed the suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court against former mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., the election commission and several other parties to put a halt to plans to place Redus on the 2014 primary and general election ballots as a candidate for Pine Bluff mayor, in spite of previous court rulings and legal opinions stating that the next mayoral election should be held in 2016.

Harris said that his representation will extend to the commission and its three members — Chairman Ted Davis, Commissioner Cynthia Sims and Commissioner Stu Soffer — as well as Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson and county Election Coordinator Will Fox.

“I have spoken with Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter about this and because he is recusing himself it looks like I will be representing them,” Harris said. “The relevant statute states that either the prosecuting attorney or the county attorney represent the election commission in cases such as this.”

Harris said his first task will be to review the lawsuit and then file an answer with the court.

Hunter said Tuesday that he would not be representing the commission because the majority of its members chose to go against his legal recommendation to the commission.

“The statute says that I am the legal adviser to the Board of Election Commissioners and that I am to defend them in legal actions,” Hunter said. “But I don’t believe that I will be representing the commission here due to the ethical and legal conflicts involved. I wrote them a legal opinion that they chose not to follow.”

Hunter said his legal opinion is that there should be no election for Pine Bluff mayor, clerk or treasurer until 2016.

“That’s my position and it is a different position than that taken by two of the three election commissioners,” Hunter said.

Davis and Sims voted at a March 7 commission meeting to place Redus on the 2014 preferential primary ballot for Pine Bluff mayor, Loretta Whitfield for city clerk, and Lloyd Franklin Sr. for city treasurer.

Commissioner Stu Soffer voted against the measure.

Arkansas Code Annotated 7-4-106 states that the county board of election commissioners may call upon the prosecuting attorney or his or her deputy for legal opinions, advice or assistance in defending, commencing, or appealing civil actions at law and equity; and that the county or prosecuting attorney shall defend any civil lawsuit brought against the county board or its members if they are sued in regard to acts or omissions made during the course of their official duties.

County circuit judges recuse

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Jodi Raines Dennis sent a letter to the Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon in which she recused herself from the case and stated that she is authorized to state that Judges Berlin Jones, Robert H. Wyatt Jr., Bill Benton, Leon Jamison, Earnest Brown, John Kearney and Kim Bridgforth also recuse themselves.

Dennis asks that Chief Justice Jim Hannah assign a judge to preside over the case.

A commissioner apart

Despite being named as a defendant in the lawsuit in his official capacity, Soffer opposed the efforts of Davis and Sims to have the three city offices put on the 2014 ballot and stood alongside Hollingsworth and her legal team Tuesday as she announced her filing.

“The other two election commissioners are educated people who hold prominent positions at UAPB, so they can be expected to read, interpret, understand and follow election law,” Soffer said Tuesday. “Regrettably neither fulfilled their public obligation and we now face a lawsuit. I commend Mayor Hollingsworth for having the fortitude to stand up for the citizens of Pine Bluff.”