Two attorneys are representing a third after a local judge sanctioned him in juvenile court two weeks ago. The separate action is connected to the case against Faulkner County Administrator Jeff Johnston.
Little Rock attorney Jeff Rosenzweig, along with Conway attorney Frank Shaw, filed a motion Tuesday afternoon to vacate sanctions by Judge Rhonda Wood, who ordered attorney Joe Don Winningham to pay $5,000 for filing "an improper pleading" to dismiss the theft-of-property case against Johnston. Wood said Winningham had 21 days from Oct. 10 to withdraw his original motion in order to avoid the fine. Instead, Winningham retained Rosenzweig and Shaw.
"We have asked for an expedited hearing," Shaw said. "We would like to have it heard by Nov. 9. Joe Don has retained both of us in this matter, and we have been involved with the motion."
At question is whether Wood is the proper entity to serve the warrant against Johnston, who is accused of using $3,800 in county funds for asphalt work to his driveway. Winningham filed a motion seeking the dismissal of Johnston’s arrest warrant and felony charge based on a claim that criminal cases in the 20th Judicial District are assigned to either Judge Charles E. Clawson or Judge David Reynolds under an administrative plan approved in January by the Arkansas Supreme Court. In August, prosecutors presented a warrant for Johnston’s arrest to Wood for approval after Clawson reportedly declined to sign it.
Wood called the motion to quash the warrant "frivolous and without a scintilla of merit," and ruled that Winningham should return to or not charge Johnston any fees associated with "preparing or defending the frivolous argument," before imposing Rule 11 sanctions for the filing of "an improper pleading" and ordering the hefty fine, payable to the county’s Victim Assistance Fund by Dec. 1, 2012 "to deter future conduct."
In his motion, Rosenzweig asserted that Winningham "was completely within his rights — indeed within his professional obligation as trial counsel — to challenge the propriety of this Court’s assertion of jurisdiction, including the issuance of the warrant upon which the Court’s claim of jurisdiction arose."
Winningham himself filed an amended motion that clarified his earlier argument. he said during the previous hearing for Johnston that he would not withdraw the motion.
"I never file a motion that I don’t believe in," Winningham said.
Johnston’s trial is set for Dec. 6-7.