LITTLE ROCK — A political opponent of a Faulkner County circuit judge on Tuesday asked the state Supreme Court to reject the judge’s petition seeking a declaration that he is qualified to be a circuit judge in Arkansas.
Doralee Chandler, who is running against Judge H.G. Foster for the Division 5 seat on the Faulkner County Circuit Court, filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to dismiss Foster’s petition or, if the court will not dismiss it, allow her to become a party in the case or at least file a friend-of-the-court brief.
Chandler previously filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court challenging Foster’s qualifications. The suit alleges that because Foster was suspended four times within the past six years for failure to pay state license fees on time, he is ineligible to serve if elected under Section 16 of Amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution.
The amendment requires a circuit judge to have been a licensed attorney in the state for at least six years before taking office.
Foster, who was appointed to a different seat on the circuit court, filed a petition with the Supreme Court on Monday arguing that a suspension for failing to pay license fees on time does not make a lawyer a “former attorney.” He asked for a declaration that he is qualified to serve in his current position and in the one he is seeking in the May 20 judicial election.
The attorney general’s office filed a response late Monday afternoon stating that Rule VII of the Arkansas Rules Governing Admission of the Bar requires that a lawyer be suspended from “the practice of law” for failing to pay license fees but does not require suspension of the lawyer’s license.
“The court should hold that an administrative suspension of a lawyer from the practice of law for delinquent payment of annual bar dues, pursuant to Rule VII … does not disqualify the attorney from eligibility to hold a judicial position pursuant to Section 16 of Amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution,” Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen argued in the response.
Chandler argued in her petition Tuesday that “when Foster was suspended, he was not a ‘licensed attorney.’ He was a former attorney” and therefore not qualified to serve.
Special appointed judge John Cole ruled March 19 that Valerie Thompson Bailey was not eligible to challenge Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox’s re-election bid because of a past administrative suspension. Bailey argued that she had let her license lapse voluntarily for a few years while raising children and living out of state, but Cole said in his ruling that the reason for the suspension did not matter.
Challenges soon followed to the qualifications of other judicial candidates with past suspensions, including Foster, Fox and Angela Byrd, a candidate for the Division 4 seat on the Faulkner County Circuit Court.