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Tab unknown in mask-law appeal

No estimates for governor’s, legislative leaders’ attorneys by Michael R. Wickline | August 22, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.

Neither officials for the governor nor legislative leaders have an estimate of how much the state will end up paying private attorneys to represent them in the appeal of a judge's decision to temporarily block a state law banning mask mandates.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Friday that she will appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court a ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox that temporarily bars authorities from enforcing a state law banning mask mandates by most state and governmental entities, including the public schools.

The Bureau of Legislative Research's payments to a Little Rock law firm for representing House and Senate leaders in the case will depend on the amount of work and the experience and expertise of the firm's attorneys in the case, said Marty Garrity, director of the bureau.

She said Tuesday she doesn't have an estimate on how much the bureau will spend on legal fees.

Dover Dixon Horne PLLC attorney Randy Bynum said in a letter dated Friday to Garrity that the law firm will bill the bureau monthly for services it has performed at the rates set for each attorney.

"At the present, I intend to handle this matter at an hourly rate of $395.00 per hour," he wrote. "Mark Allison will assist me at the same hourly rate. We may use other attorneys in our firm as availability dictates with a view toward providing you our best service on an efficient and effective basis. Our other billing practices are discussed in the Statement of Billing and Fee Arrangements attached to this letter."

Garrity said the contract with Dover Dixon Horne also allows for all costs, including special postage, delivery charges, travel, process servers and other expenses.

Bynum said the bureau's authority to hire outside legal counsel is granted by Arkansas Code Annotated 10-3-303 (h), which requires the approval of the Legislative Council's Executive Subcommittee.

The Legislative Council's co-chairmen, Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, and Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, signed off on the contract on Friday, Garrity said.

House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, and Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, announced Friday they jointly retained Dover Dixon Horne to represent them in their official capacities in the pending litigation.

Governor's lawyer

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had said earlier that the attorney general would not represent him in the case, announced Friday that he has asked David R. Matthews of the Matthews, Campbell, Rhoads, McClure & Thompson P.A. in Rogers to represent him in his official capacity.

In a letter dated Aug. 10 to the governor, Matthews said his attorney fees will be based on an hourly rate of $350 and the billing will done on a monthly basis.

"I will be glad to inform you when the fee approaches the sum of $25,000.00 and will keep you informed of each additional $25,000.00 interval," he wrote.

In addition, "you will be responsible for all costs and expenses related to this matter," Matthews said. These costs and expenses may include law clerk costs, copying costs, postage, travel expenses, process server fees, and witness fees, he said.

Hutchinson spokeswoman Shealyn Sowers said Tuesday that "we don't" have an estimated cost for Matthews' contract.

The law in the case is Act 1002 of 2021, sponsored by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado.

Fox's Aug. 6 ruling on Act 1002 came hours after the Legislature adjourned a three-day special session called by Hutchinson, who asked lawmakers to change the law so local school boards could decide whether to require students younger than 12 years old to wear masks. Those children are ineligible to be vaccinated for covid-19.

The Republican dominated-Legislature refused to follow the Republican governor's suggestion to change the state law amid surging coronavirus cases in Arkansas resulting from the delta variant and the state's relatively low vaccination rate.

Hutchinson, who has said he regrets signing Act 1002, said on Aug. 6 that his goal had been accomplished not by the Legislature, but by Fox. He called Fox's decision limited, well-reasoned and constitutionally based.

On March 30, Hutchinson announced that he was lifting the state's mask mandate, which he imposed in 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fox's ruling has prompted some of the school districts and the state's colleges and universities to require masks to be worn in their buildings.

Print Headline: Tab unknown in mask-law appeal

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