LITTLE ROCK — A Little Rock lawyer who was disqualified as a candidate for circuit judge in a controversial ruling last month said Thursday she was encouraged by a judge’s ruling this week that it is unconstitutional to suspend a lawyer’s license without a hearing.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued the ruling Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging the qualifications of Angela Byrd, a candidate for a 20th Judicial District judgeship. Griffen granted a third-party complaint by Byrd, who had asked him to find that a state Supreme Court rule requiring the automatic suspension of lawyers who pay their state license fees late is unconstitutional because it deprives the lawyers of due process.
Byrd is among several judicial candidates whose qualifications have been challenged recently because of past administrative suspensions. The first was Valerie Thompson Bailey of Little Rock, who was disqualified from challenging the re-election bid of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox in a March 19 ruling by special appointed judge John Cole.
Cole found that because Bailey had been suspended within the past six years, she was disqualified under Amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution, which states that a circuit judge must have been a licensed lawyer in the state for six years before taking office. Bailey argued that an administrative suspension is not the same as a disciplinary suspension, but Cole said all suspensions are the same.
That ruling was followed quickly by challenges to the qualifications of Byrd, Fox and Circuit Judge H.G. Foster, who is seeking a different seat in the 20th Judicial Circuit. All three have received administrative suspensions within the past six years.
Bailey said Thursday, “I’m very happy for Ms. Byrd because the voters in the 20th Judicial Circuit can now vote for her, which they have a right to do. I hope that my own supporters will have that right in the 6th Circuit.”
Bailey has asked Cole to reconsider his ruling in her case. She said she plans to amend her motion for reconsideration to incorporate Griffen’s ruling.
“As far as Griffen’s decision, I certainly think that it weighs in my favor, and I hope that Judge Cole will take it into consideration and rule on my motion for reconsideration and vacate his judgment,” she said.
Fox and Foster did not immediately return calls Thursday afternoon seeking comment. Foster has asked the state Supreme Court for a declaration that he is qualified to serve.