Special judge requested in lawsuit against former county attorney

The Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court has been asked to assign a special judge to preside over a lawsuit filed against former Jefferson County Attorney Terry Wynne.

Wynne, whose license to practice law was suspended for a year in July, is being sued by his former employers — Bridges, Young, Matthews & Drake, PLC of Pine Bluff — who allege among other things that Wynne took money belonging to the firm and applied it to his personal use.

The request for a special judge came from Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis, who was assigned the case. Dennis said in a letter to Chief Justice Jim Hannah that her husband is a partner in the law firm, and to avoid the appearance of impropriety, she was recusing herself.

Dennis said she had consulted with the other circuit judges in the district — Berlin C. Jones, Rob Wyatt Jr., Bill Benton, Leon Jamison and Earnest Brown Jr. — as well as district judges Kim Bridgforth and John Kearney, who also recused.

According to the complaint, Wynne was licensed to practice law in Arkansas in 1977 and at some point thereafter, until Feb. 21, 2012, was a member of the Bridges Law Firm.

“Defendant has admitted in proceedings before the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Processional Conduct that he repeatedly converted substantial fees and fee deposits to his own benefit which he knew were required to be deposited for the benefit of the plaintiff (Bridges Law firm),” the complaint says. “As as result of these actions, his license to practice law has been suspended for a period of one year.”

The complaint, which was filed by an attorney from a Little Rock law firm not associated with the Bridges firm, says that by taking the money, Wynne “breached his agreement with plaintiff resulting in damages to plaintiff of lost fees as well as lost resources, namely the substantial time lost by plaintiff’s professionals and staff that were required to discover and ascertain the extent of the damages done by defendant.”

In his response to the state court committee, Wynne admitted the allegations made against him in the initial complaint were “essentially correct.”

He said the reason for his misconduct was that he had developed a gambling addiction and needed money, and that his emotional state was affected by the terminal illness and death of his wife in 2011. He also said in sworn testimony that he was willing to repay the Bridges Law Firm.

In addition to seeking repayment of the money owed by Wynne, the lawsuit seeks damages in the amount of the time lost by staff members and attorneys in researching the charges against Wynne, as well as punitive damages and attorney fees.

Wynne resigned as Jefferson County attorney in July after the disciplinary action was taken against him, and was replaced by attorney Jackie Harris.

An attempt to contact Wynne was unsuccessful.