Treasurer to appeal lawsuit to Arkansas Supreme Court
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.