The candidacy of another local judicial candidate is being questioned because of lateness in paying annual attorney licensure fees — this one a sitting judge.
First Division Circuit Judge H.G. Foster is current on his attorney’s dues this year, but was more than two months late paying in 2013. The dues are payable as of Jan. 1 each year, but not late until after March 1.
Foster said on Monday that he believed that his dues had been taken care of last year and he "ill-advisedly did not follow up on it." Foster got a call while presiding over a court in Clinton from the Arkansas Judiciary on May 17 telling him that his dues were late, he said.
"I couldn’t believe it," Foster said. "I stopped court, and went in my car to the Supreme Court and paid my dues that day."
Foster said that he went from the Arkansas Supreme Court’s offices to the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDC) and "self-reported" his lateness in paying the fees.
"At the time they said there was ‘no problem, you self-reported and it’s not going to be a big deal,’" Foster said.
In November, 2013, fearing that his attorney dues might become a "big deal" during this election season, Foster asked for, and received, two letters showing that no adverse action had been taken against him for his lateness.
Foster’s office provided on Monday a letter from state Supreme Court Clerk Leslie Steen stating that as of the date of its writing, Nov. 4, "no disbarment proceedings have been filed against [Foster] in this court, that he has not had any adverse disciplinary action whatsoever during the past three year period, and his his private and professional character appear to be good."
He also provided a letter also dated Nov. 4 from Stark Ligon, Executive Director of the Arkansas Supreme Court Office of Professional Conduct, stating that in his office’s files there was "no disciplinary history, and there are no pending charges or complaints" filed against Foster.
Foster said on Monday that it was his understanding that a complaint about his lateness in paying had been filed with the JDDC recently, and that the complaint had been dismissed.
JDDC Executive Director David Sachar said on Monday that he couldn’t comment on the existence of complaints that don’t — or haven’t yet — give rise to a JDDC investigation, and that even then he couldn’t comment on the nature or substance of the complaint even if one did exist.
Foster does not have any disciplinary actions on his record, according to state Supreme Court Deputy Clerk Denise Parks, but "he was suspended form March the second through May the 17th for non-payment of dues."
Candidates for circuit judgeship are required by Arkansas constitutional law to have been licensed attorneys for six continuous years. A recent decision in Pulaski County Circuit Court would suggest that such a lapse in payment of dues might disqualify a judicial candidate from a ballot.
In this case, Hulse v. Martin et. al,. 6th Judicial District hopeful Valerie Bailey challenged incumbent judge Tim Fox in this election, only to have her name de-certified from the ballot after a specially-appointed Pulaski County Circuit Court judge found that an administrative suspension for late payment of attorney’s fees did disqualify Bailey from candidacy.
However, another judicial district’s circuit court ruling is not binding on Faulkner County Circuit Court or the 20th Judicial District, so a local challenge to the candidacy of either Foster or Angela Byrd, who has filed against incumbent Circuit Judge David Clark for the 4th Division and also has an administrative suspension for paying one day late, would not have to follow the precedent set in Pulaski County’s circuit court.
The issue comes to light in Foster’s case because the Blue Hog Report, an alternative news website, published an excerpt from a letter on Monday that the Blue Hog Report claimed to be a list of all attorneys late on their dues in 2013. A search on the Arkansas Judiciary’s website for Foster returns no record of license suspension.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1277. 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)