A move by lawyers for two assistant Little Rock police chiefs suing Police Chief Keith Humphrey to consolidate the litigation into a single courtroom is a ruse to cover their true intentions, an attempt at "judge shopping," attorneys for the chief and city say in recent court filings.
Judge shopping is an unethical practice by civil litigants who try to find a favorable court to hear their case. Assistant Chiefs Hayward Finks and Alice Fulk filed separate job discrimination suits against Humphrey about a week apart in April in Pulaski County Circuit Court.
"The court should not abide by plaintiffs' efforts to prejudice the administration and shop for the judge of their preference," the chief's lawyers wrote in a recent pleading.
Finks, who filed suit first, is before Judge Chris Piazza, while Fulk was assigned to Judge Alice Gray. Their lawyers requested that Gray transfer the Fulk case to Piazza, stating that the accusations in the litigation are so similar that having one judge preside over both would serve "judicial economy," attorneys Chris Burks and Degen Clow stated, citing 52 years of legal precedent in their petition.
Gray responded that she would not act until she'd heard from the lawyers for the city and police chief.
The city's representatives -- Springdale lawyers Susan Lorraine Keller, Justin Eichmann and Thomas Kieklak -- are opposed to transferring the Fulk case, stating that the Finks and Fulk suits are not similar enough to make it necessary for one judge to preside over both.
"Counsel is clearly forum shopping and seeks to transfer his cases to [judicial] Divisions that he presumably considers to be more sympathetic," Kendall wrote in a letter to Gray.
"Plaintiffs' motion is not a display of an 'interest in judicial economy' but rather an attempt to engage in judge-shopping," Humphrey's attorneys Khayyam Eddings and Michael Moore stated in their response. "The Court should not abide by Plaintiffs' efforts to prejudice the administration and shop for the judge of their preference.
The defense points to a June 5 email from Burks as evidence of the plaintiffs' "machinations." The email refers to comments made to the Arkansas Times about the litigation by retired Pulaski County Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey, who is now in private practice.
Gray worked for Marion Humphrey when he was a Little Rock municipal judge more than 30 years ago. She was elected to circuit court in 1992 alongside Marion Humphrey, who had urged her to run.
Marion Humphrey, who retired as judge in 2010, and Keith Humphrey are not related.
"If forced to, my clients would testify that Judge Gray appears biased and should recuse because of her relationship with Marion Humphrey" whom the Times described as a friend and legal adviser of the police chief, Burks wrote in the email, which was filed with the court Thursday.
But Burks can't prove that Gray will not be fair and can't meet the legal standard to get her to step aside, so they've adopted the claim of "judicial economy," the chief's lawyers state.
Plaintiffs' claim of the court's bias is nothing more than a now transparent ploy to transfer their case to another division of the court under the guise of ''judicial economy," the chief's attorneys wrote in response. "Because plaintiffs cannot make a demonstration of bias their attempt to recuse the court under the guise of a motion to transfer 'in the interest of judicial economy' should be denied."
Burks has been trying to get the lawsuits in front of a sympathetic judge from the start, the defense claims, pointing to how the Finks suit got to Piazza's court.
Lawsuits are assigned to judges at random, but Burks filed the Finks suit with Circuit Judge Tim Fox under an exception to the filing rule that allows lawsuits based on similar issues to be assigned to a single judge.
Burks wanted Fox to hear the case because the judge had presided over another case involving the police chief, his firing of Little Rock police officer Charles Starks.
Fox overturned Starks' termination, modifying it into a 30-day unpaid suspension and a reduction in pay. Starks had been fired after fatally shooting a car-theft suspect last year, shortly before the chief was hired.
Finks and Fulk, joined by some lower ranking officers, say in their suits that the chief has punished them in retaliation for their public testimony that he, on the orders of the mayor, rushed the internal investigation into the shooting.
Fox declined to take on the Finks suit, stating that the legal issues raised didn't have anything to do with his rulings in the Starks case, and ordered it sent to Piazza, court filings show.