Jus­tices to forgo ar­gu­ments in ex­e­cu­tion-drug law­suit

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

Arkansas Supreme Court jus­tices won’t hear oral ar­gu­ments be­fore de­cid­ing a case seek­ing to dis­close in­for­ma­tion about one of the state’s lethal in­jec­tion drugs, the court said Thurs­day.

All but one of the seven high court jus­tices ruled against a mo­tion by state at­tor­neys to have ar­gu­ments in per­son be­fore the jus­tices.

The court did not is­sue an opin­ion ex­plain­ing its de­ci­sion, though a one-page copy of its de­ci­sion in­di­cated that Jus­tice Josephine Hart sided with hear­ing the ar­gu­ments.

In­stead, the court will rely on hun­dreds of pages of le­gal briefs and sup­port­ing doc­u­ments to reach its de­ci­sion in Arkansas Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tion v. Steven Shults. The court has al­ready agreed to speed up its con­sid­er­a­tion of the case so it is com­pleted be­fore the state’s next sched­uled ex­e­cu­tion on Nov. 9.

Shults is a Lit­tle Rock at­tor­ney who sued the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tion af­ter the agency de­nied his pub­lic records re­quest for doc­u­ments de­tail­ing the ori­gins of its sup­ply of mi­da­zo­lam, a seda­tive used in lethal in­jec­tions.

The depart­ment had an­nounced it ob­tained a new sup­ply of mi­da­zo­lam on the same day in Au­gust when At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge asked the gover­nor to set an ex­e­cu­tion date for Jack Gor­don Greene. Greene was con­victed of cap­i­tal mur­der in the 1991 slay­ing of a min­is­ter in John­son County.

Shults sought la­bels and pack­age in­serts for the drug — doc­u­ments that in the past have been used by re­porters to iden­tify the man­u­fac­tur­ers — but the Cor­rec­tion Depart­ment de­clined his re­quest, point­ing to lan­guage in the state’s Method of Ex­e­cu­tion Act aimed at keep­ing se­cret the sources of its ex­e­cu­tion drugs. Shults filed a law­suit in which he ar­gued

the Arkansas Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act trumped the ex­e­cu­tion law’s se­crecy pro­vi­sions.

It’s the sec­ond such law­suit he had filed against the depart­ment. Ear­lier this year, ahead of a se­ries of April ex­e­cu­tions, Shults sought the same doc­u­ments for an­other ex­e­cu­tion drug, potas­sium chlo­ride.

Shults’ le­gal team did not file a re­sponse to the state’s re­quest for oral ar­gu­ments. One of his at­tor­neys, Heather Good­son Zachary, said Thurs­day they were neu­tral to the idea of hold­ing oral ar­gu­ments.

“I think our po­si­tion is the statute is pretty clear,” Zachary said.

A spokesman for Rut­ledge de­clined to com­ment on the court’s de­ci­sion Thurs­day.

Twice this year, in each of Shults’ law­suits, a cir­cuit court judge has sided with the at­tor­ney and or­dered the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tion to re­lease the doc­u­ments. Both times, the state ap­pealed to the Supreme Court and got the jus­tices to tem­po­rar­ily halt the lower court’s or­der to re­lease the in­for­ma­tion.

Both cases are now await­ing full con­sid­er­a­tion by the high court. How­ever, the jus­tices are ex­pected reach a de­ci­sion first on the case in­volv­ing doc­u­ments for the drug mi­da­zo­lam, Zachary said.

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