Trea­surer to ap­peal law­suit to Arkansas Supreme Court

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - JOHN LYNCH

A judge’s re­fusal Thurs­day to dis­miss a whistle­blower law­suit against state Trea­surer Den­nis Milligan will be ap­pealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, Milligan’s at­tor­neys said.

Cir­cuit Judge Chris Pi­azza re­jected ar­gu­ments by Milligan’s at­tor­neys the trea­surer is con­sti­tu­tion­ally im­mune from such law­suits. He also de­nied a re­quest by the trea­surer to post­pone the trial, which was sup­posed to start next Wed­nes­day.

With the high court on sum­mer va­ca­tion un­til Septem­ber, the ap­peal promised by Milligan’s at­tor­neys will force an in­def­i­nite de­lay in the trial.

Plain­tiff’s at­tor­ney Luther Sut­ter said Milligan’s ap­peal is ground­less, based on a “last-minute” de­fense ar­gu­ment Milligan’s lawyers aban­doned at the start of the lit­i­ga­tion in Septem­ber 2015.

The tim­ing of Milligan’s ar­gu­ments is sig­nif­i­cant, Sut­ter said, since his lawyers waited for al­most two years to bring the is­sue to the judge. Milligan’s mo­tion to dis­miss was filed June 22.

Sut­ter said the real pur­pose of the lat­est ap­peal is to pun­ish his client by de­lib­er­ately pro­long­ing the pro­ceed­ings and in­creas­ing the re­lated ex­pense. Sut­ter said the ap­peal will also in­crease the costs to tax­pay­ers, who are pay­ing for Milligan’s at­tor­neys.

“This is a prime case of de­lay,” Sut­ter said. “Why would they wait un­til the week be­fore trial? The an­swer is money.”

Sut­ter is rep­re­sent­ing David Singer, a for­mer di­vi­sion man­ager for the trea­surer’s of­fice who was fired in April 2015.

Singer re­sponded to his ter­mi­na­tion with a defama­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion and wrong­ful fir­ing law­suit, but a fed­eral jury re­jected the al­le­ga­tions against Milligan in a Fe­bru­ary trial. Other claims were dis­missed by the fed­eral judge ahead of trial.

Singer’s state court law­suit ac­cuses Milligan, a first­term Repub­li­can, of mis­us­ing tax­payer money from the trea­surer’s of­fice to pro­mote him­self “cam­paign style” by pur­chas­ing pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial such as key chains, ink pens and can­vas gro­cery bags adorned with “graven im­ages of the trea­surer’s face.”

Singer claims he was sub­jected to de­lib­er­ate ha­rass­ment be­fore be­ing fired in re­tal­i­a­tion for re­peat­edly com­plain­ing about the spend­ing to Milligan and his man­age­ment team, Jim Har­ris, Grant Wallace and Ja­son Brady.

In a separate state court law­suit, Singer is chal­leng­ing the le­gal­ity of Milligan en­ter­ing into a $450,000 fouryear con­tract to es­tab­lish an on­line fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy pro­gram for ele­men­tary stu­dents. By tak­ing on such a project, Milligan is il­le­gally ex­ceed­ing the scope of his du­ties, which are hold­ing and man­ag­ing the state’s money, the law­suit states.

Milligan spokesman Stacy Peter­son com­plained Milligan has been un­fairly tar­nished by Singer’s lit­i­ga­tion.

Peter­son also said Singer bears some re­spon­si­bil­ity for the length of the pro­ceed­ings be­cause he ex­panded the scope of his suit at least twice.

Milligan has at­tempted to set­tle the suit, she said.

“We are in no way try­ing to de­lay. There have been nu­mer­ous fil­ings by the plain­tiff that have de­layed the process and cost the tax­pay­ers money,” she said. “[Singer] can save him­self money and drop lit­i­ga­tion against the trea­surer any­time he chooses. Milligan didn’t ask to be sued. He has tried on mul­ti­ple at­tempts to set­tle with the plain­tiff, but was never able to come to a rea­son­able agree­ment.”

Thurs­day, Milligan at­tor­ney Gra­ham Tal­ley ar­gued Milligan is ab­so­lutely pro­tected from law­suits like Singer’s by the “black let­ter law” of sov­er­eign im­mu­nity, which is es­tab­lished in Ar­ti­cle 5, Sec­tion 20, of the state con­sti­tu­tion.

“Our ar­gu­ment is pred­i­cated on one thing, the [con­sti­tu­tional] lan­guage that ‘The state of Arkansas shall never be made a de­fen­dant in any of her courts,’” he said.

Tal­ley also said Singer’s claims against Milligan are heavy on ac­cu­sa­tions but light on the nec­es­sary proof to back them up.

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