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story.lead_photo.caption In this Feb. 28, 2018 file photo, Mary Robin Casteel, head of the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration, reads the names of the top applicants for cannabis cultivation centers in Little Rock at a meeting of the state Medical Marijuana Commission. Casteel will begin her new role as Gov. Asa Hutchinson's chief legal counsel Monday. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

Mary Robin Casteel, director of the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, was named Friday as Gov. Asa Hutchinson's new chief legal counsel.

She will begin her new role Monday.

"I'm delighted to have Mary Robin join our team as my new Chief Legal Counsel. Her background in state government and her breadth of experience in Arkansas law make her an ideal choice as we head into the 2019 session," Hutchinson said in a release. "She has served the state well in her capacity as ABC Administration director, and I have no doubt she will do the same in this new role."

Hutchinson appointed Doralee Chandler -- who has served as the first general counsel for the state Crime Laboratory since 2015 -- as the new director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. Chandler will take the post Dec. 3. ABC staff attorney Deanna Ray will serve as interim director.

Casteel's annual salary in the new position will be $103,000 while Chandler's will be $101,081, according to J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said in a prepared statement that it was important to him to find the right person who could fill Casteel's shoes and continue to fulfill the agency's mission.

"I am confident we found that person in Doralee Chandler," Hutchinson said, adding that Chandler's "relationships within the legal community and her experience working with law enforcement will serve her and the people of Arkansas well."

The state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Division -- which operates under the Department of Finance and Administration led by Director Larry Walther -- regulates and supervises the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages in the state. The division's enforcement arm investigates permit applications as well as violations. There are more than 5,000 permit holders.

In the interim, Ray will issue decisions on applications and violations, said Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration.

"Mary Robin has worked closely with ABC staff to ensure the agency continues to operate effectively in this transition period," Hardin said. "Due to this planning, ABC will not experience any delays over the next two weeks. Interim Director Deanna Ray will oversee all aspects of day to day business until Ms. Chandler arrives."

The division will regulate the licensed medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment was passed by voters two years ago, but the state-sanctioned drug is not yet available to patients.

"I am truly honored that Governor Hutchinson has selected me to lead Alcohol Beverage Control Administration and is giving me the opportunity to continue to serve this State," Chandler said in a statement. "The ABC Administration has multiple challenges ahead of it as we institute the majority's desire to legalize medical marijuana. I look forward to these challenges and intend to provide strong leadership for the agency and the State while working diligently with Governor Hutchinson and Larry Walther to reach the agency's goals for the coming year."

Chandler, a lifelong Arkansas resident, spent 17 years as a civil defense lawyer for the Little Rock firm Matthews, Sanders and Sayes. She serves as the chairman of the Arkansas Parent Counsel Commission, a post she was appointed to in 2017.

Casteel served as a staff attorney since 2013 for the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division before being appointed director 18 months ago. She first served as interim director after the abrupt May 26, 2017, resignation of then-Director Bud Roberts.

Her previous legal experience includes the representation of municipalities and financial institutions on a variety of issues. Casteel is a lifelong resident of Arkansas.

"It has truly been a privilege to serve the people of Arkansas in that role," Casteel said in a statement. "This new opportunity is an exciting one, and I am thankful once again by the confidence the Governor has placed in me as his new Chief Legal Counsel. I look forward to working with him and his staff as we prepare for the upcoming session."

Metro on 11/17/2018

Print Headline: Arkansas governor taps Casteel as chief counsel

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