Faulkner County administrator Jeff Johnston will appear in court Wednesday for a pretrial hearing armed with a motion request to dismiss his case based on a claim that the judge who signed an arrest warrant and felony charge information was out of her jurisdiction.
Twentieth Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland said Monday his office will file a response Tuesday before the hearing, but he declined to say what the response would be.
In the motion filed at Faulkner County Circuit Court by attorney Joe Don Winningham, the defense claims the Juvenile Court and Fifth Division Judge Rhonda Wood cannot preside over the criminal case without violating the Administrative Plan for the Twentieth Judicial District approved this year by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The motion states pursuant to the plan, all criminal cases are assigned to Judge David Reynolds or Judge Charles Clawson.
Winningham claims the administrative act stipulates Wood, whose signature appears on Johnston’s felony information, presides over Faulkner, Searcy and Van Buren county civil cases, cases of juvenile delinquency, cases of neglect, and criminal cases where juveniles are charged as adults.
An order of jurisdiction filed at Faulkner County Circuit Court and signed by Wood says the State presented the office with the bench warrant with the explanation that other judges must rely on the county administrator for budget issues.
According to the motion to quash or dismiss Johnston’s charge, Judge Clawson was first presented the warrant, but declined to sign it.
Wood wrote in the order of jurisdiction, "The explanation was that this division would be more appropriate due to Judge Wood leaving for the Court of Appeals."
Winningham argues Judge Reynolds is also leaving the circuit court bench at the close of the year to serve as District Court judge, and that the Quorum Court approves budgets in circuit court offices.
"The amount of contribution to the budget of district courts by each county is established by law," the motion states.
In the motion’s accompanying brief, Winningham claims the State did not follow the allocation and assignments of the administrative plan, and such "hand picking" of a judge "leaves the impression that the judicial process has been abused."
Johnston appears before Judge Wood at 1 p.m. Wednesday in courtroom E.
He was arrested in August on the charge he used county funds of about $3,800 for asphalt work on his driveway.
Johnston has pleaded innocent to the charge.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)