Judge disqualifies proposed amendment from Arkansas election

A proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that would enact limits on attorneys fees, lawsuit damages and the ability of the courts to write their own rules was disqualified Thursday by a Little Rock judge.

Circuit Court Judge Mackie Pierce issued an order Thursday afternoon in which he found that the various sections of Issue 1 were not “reasonably germane” to each other, a violation of the state Constitution.

State officials said they planned to appeal Pierce's order to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

"I am confident that our Supreme Court will ultimately let the people decide," Carl Vogelphol, campaign manager for Arkansans for Jobs and Justice, the group backing the proposal.

Proponents of the amendment, including the state Chamber of Commerce, had argued that the provision of the amendment had all related to “judicial power.”

Opponents, however, said the attempt to pass sweeping changes the judiciary was illegal “logrolling.” Many attorneys, as well as the Arkansas Bar Association, have vocally opposed Issue 1. Retired Pulaski County Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey had challenged the measure as unconstitutional.

"We appreciate the judge's thoroughness and we're still analyzing his very well-reasoned opinion," Jeff Priebe, an attorney for Humphrey, said.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin said that general elections ballots have already shipped and are getting prepared by the counties, so he doesn't expect that they’ll be changed.

The amendment would cap damages at $500,000 for noneconomic losses, such as pain and psychological distress. It would cap punitive damages at $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, whichever is higher. It also would cap attorneys' contingency fees at one-third of the net amount recovered. The measure also would give the Legislature the power to change, repeal or adopt rules for the state's courts.

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

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter John Moritz and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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