Jonesboro also makes motion for dismissal of DID lawsuit

by Stan Morris | NEA Report

JONESBORO, Ark. – Attorneys for the City of Jonesboro want the lawsuit which demands refunds for costs and fines levied illegally under a civil statute to be dropped.

The statute is the drunken, insane, or disorderly (DID) statute, A.C.A. 12-11-110. Until earlier this year, Craighead County District Court judges Keith Blackman and Curt Huckaby levied fines and costs onto defendants who were arrested under the statute. However, as many attorneys including former Arkansas A.G. Dustin McDaniel pointed out, the statute did not prescribe any authority for punishment. Later, Craighead County Circuit Court Judge Victor Hill issued a writ of prohibition effectively confirming the fines and costs were outside of the statute’s intended and allowed authority.

On June 10, Jonesboro attorney Mark Rees, representing Clifton Burcham and all others affected by the DID fines and costs, filed a lawsuit against Craighead County and the City of Jonesboro for an illegal exaction under Article 16, Section 13 of the Arkansas Constitution. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs state fines and costs were illegal and thus, illegal exactions which the plaintiffs “aggrieved at their taxation as costs against them in Craighead County District Court.”

The lawsuit demands refunds of all associated costs and fines for the past three years, which is the limit under the law.

While Craighead County’s response was a bit lengthier, the City of Jonesboro makes a brief response in comparison. However, the city defers to the same motion for dismissal made by the county.

The motion, from Rainwater, Holt & Sexton, P.A. of Little Rock, representing the city and also the county, targets the plaintiff’s usage of “illegal-exaction” lawsuits. It goes on to state any “voluntary payments,” defined as payments not made under formal protest, are not subject to an illegal exaction suit under the law.

Describing the defendants’ position Friday to NEA Report, Rees said it was “frivolous defense.”

Tuesday afternoon, he gave an example he said Jonesboro should follow.

“Jonesboro and Craighead County could learn a few things from their neighbor, Walnut Ridge,” Rees said. “When Walnut Ridge was notified that a tax was being imposed that was wrong, they immediately acknowledged it and agreed to pay it back, and not hide behind a bunch of frivolous defenses. Jonesboro and Craighead County have decided to fight to keep this money that was illegally obtained.”

The City of Walnut Ridge recently agreed to repay $255,000 to residents of the prior three years for a “fire protection” fee, or tax, appearing on their water bill.

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