The decade-long legal battle over “sheriff’s fees” in Craighead County finally ended late last week, with the Arkansas Supreme Court declining to review an earlier decision made in appellate court. That court found fees were illegally collected from defendants in Craighead County for years. That decision will now stand firm, attorney Mark Rees explained.
“We still have to go back and set up a way for people to ask for refunds, but liability is over with and there is no more arguing about that,” Rees said.
With Craighead County liable for the collection of illegal fees, the next step is to determine the process for people to request their refunds. NEA Report will follow and publish developments related to this as they occur.
From 2009 to 2015, Craighead County collected $391,583.38 in sheriff’s fees, according to county treasurer reports. During the same period, $124,898.76 in lower court fees were also collected by the county. Sheriff’s fees, as they were labeled, were $86. A $100 fee was also being charged to defendants who appealed their case. Both were unlawful, circuit court ruled in 2016, when it issued an injunction to stop the practice.
Rees has worked for ten years to achieve this result. He filed the case on behalf of Christopher Miles and all other similarly situated persons in 2012. The case hit a major roadblock in Craighead County Circuit Court when a judge ruled in 2016 the county wasn’t liable. Rees said there were many days he wanted to give up. But the tide turned in the case with the decision to reverse the lower court’s ruling by the Arkansas Court of Appeals District IV in early March, 2022. Judge Stephanie Potter Barrett authored the ruling:
“The Craighead County Circuit Court refused to hold the assessment of subject fees constituted an illegal exaction, and that the fees and costs paid were made voluntarily, and that refunds were not available, and it dismissed the case with prejudice. From that order comes this appeal. We hold that the assessment and collection of fees and costs not authorized by law does constitute an illegal exaction and that the fees were not voluntarily paid. Therefore, we reverse and remand.”
The fees in question date back to the 1960s. Defendants in Craighead County court would be assessed an $86 fee labeled on some reports as a “sheriff’s cost.” But fees can’t be assessed without law specifically allowing it and for this fee, no such laws were ever found to have existed. The precise origin has been difficult to track but the money did not appear to go to or even involve the sheriff’s department. A $100 fee to appeal a case from district court to circuit court was also being unlawfully assessed, Craighead County Circuit Judge David Laser ruled in 2016. That court stopped short of holding the county liable for the illegal fees.
However, the decision on March 2 reversed that ruling, determining the county was liable. The county exhausted its final option by appealing the decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court. On May 26, the state’s supreme court denied to review the case.
“ … the Rees Law Firm will always advocate for the common man and hold government officials accountable when necessary,” Rees said, back in March.