Lawsuit filed in Pulaski County to kick proposed amendment off the ballot

A lawsuit filed in Pulaski County on Thursday seeks to knock Issue 1 off the November ballot, stating that the proposal put forward by the Legislature is an illegal amalgamation of changes to the state Constitution.

The complaint, filed by Marion Humphrey, a former Pulaski County circuit judge, is the first legal maneuver against Issue 1, a proposal pitched as "tort reform" but cast by many attorneys as patients' advocates as an attack on the independence of the Arkansas judiciary.

Issue 1 proposes to amend the Arkansas Constitution by placing a cap on attorneys fees and certain lawsuit damages, as well as giving the Legislature final rulemaking authority over the courts.

The lawsuit, prepared by attorney David Couch, states that the various parts of Issue 1 do not add up to form one coherent amendment. Former Circuit Court Judge Marion Humphrey is listed as the plaintiff in the suit.

Issue 1 "constitutes unconstitutional 'logrolling' and 'pork-barreling,'" Couch stated in a draft of his suit, which was submitted to the court Thursday afternoon.

Under the state Constitution's provisions for amendments, the Legislature may vote to place up to three amendments on the general election ballot during a regular session. Each amendment must get a seperate vote.

But Couch's lawsuit alleges that Issue 1 is essentially four different amendments that voters will only get to vote on once.

Proponents of Issue 1, including the state Chamber of Commerce, argue that the amendment would help reduce the costs of litigation for businesses and hospitals.

Millions of dollars have already been raised groups planning to campaign on either side of the issue in the fall.

Couch's lawsuit is against Secretary of State Mark Martin, whose office certifies what amendments get places on ballots, and counts the final votes.

Two years ago, the Arkansas Supreme Court halted voting on two different amendments due to lawsuits. One of the struck proposals, Issue 4, dealt with attorneys fees and damages specifically in medical malpractice suits.

Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.