- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Nov. 9, 2015

Besides trouble waiting to happen?

This being an American story, of course a lawsuit comes at the end.

There’s a former constable in Washington County who’s filed a lawsuit against 16 real law enforcement types—including judges and prosecutors—over his arrest back in 2013. Something about possession of blue lights and a traffic stop that may or may not have happened, depending on who’s telling the story.

The former constable from Springdale filed a federal lawsuit contending that he was arrested for bogus reasons and defamed. He admitted in a plea bargain in 2013 that he had emergency lights on his vehicle, but he denied pulling anybody over. It’s become a he-said, he-said in the federal courts now, and who knows where it will all lead. Let the judge assigned to the case handle it, as always.

But here’s a good question, and one that’s been asked before, over and over: Why does Arkansas still have constables?

Doesn’t the state have enough problems without having hundreds of these vaguely trained Sonny Crockett wannabes running around looking for, and sometimes making, mischief? (Kids: Detective Crockett was the main character on a TV show called Miami Vice. Ask your parents.)

These constables really need a more useful hobby. One that doesn’t cost taxpayers’ money.

The best way to prevent a real problem from happening in the future is to simply do away with the office and leave law enforcement to the real lawmen. Police forces and sheriff’s departments have enough of a challenge making sure all their sworn officers are trained on how to handle hard spots without having hundreds of wannabe cops wandering around the state, getting in the way.

Unfortunately, the job of constable is written into the state’s antiquated constitution. Yes, constables are a throw-back to the 1870s. Those were 19th-century, post-Civil War times, when this was still a rugged state, and roads—and trained lawmen—were few. Times have changed but the law that created constables remains in the constitution. Good thing oil lamps and horse-drawn carriages aren’t, or the state would still be covered up with them, too.

Here’s an idea who’s time has not only come, but has been here a long time already: At the next session of the Legislature, can somebody propose (again) a fix to the constitution that does away with this unnecessary office? Before somebody gets hurt. Or worse.

For anybody who might still think constables are useful … Then quick, name yours.

___

El Dorado News-Times, Nov. 11, 2015

Thank veterans with VA support

For the past few years, thanking veterans for their service has been a routine and regular thing. Perhaps as a nod to previously under-appreciating the sacrifices veterans make by going where Uncle Sam told them to go - with no input as to the mission or the locale on their part - Americans have made it a point to appreciate veterans of recent vintage.

That’s a good thing.

We appreciate veterans, too.

We appreciate their hard work preparing for whatever comes their way. Military training is usually not a walk in the park. “If it ain’t rainin’, we ain’t trainin’” is a common theme, and one that rings true oftentimes. Members of the Arkansas Army National Guard, for example, spend much of their time training at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock and Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center outside of Fort Smith. If you’ve ever visited either locale in the dead of summer . well, let’s just say the climate isn’t usually hospitable. And don’t get us started on the ticks and chiggers.

We appreciate their service overseas and at home. Thousands of our state’s men and women have served overseas in wars going way back into our nation’s past. In recent years, most all eligible, active members of the state’s National Guard units have served overseas at one time or another. They’ve gone to war in some of the most inhospitable places on the planet. They’ve dodged bullets and bombs, IEDs and rockets. Most of the time, who was the enemy was difficult to ascertain.

We would be remiss if we didn’t also acknowledge the families of veterans. They carry a special burden when a loved one is in a combat zone halfway around the world. Any phone call can mean upheaval. Hat’s off to the spouses, children, parents and siblings of those who serve.

Another group is tremendously important to our military efforts. Were it not for supportive employers, our National Guard and Reserves would be unable to function as they do. Across the country, employers see to it that their employees who serve part-time have the support they need to fulfill their obligations.

Make no mistake, military deployments take a huge toll on businesses. Thank you to the business owners and managers who allow Guardsmen and Reservists to serve their country.

“Thank you” for your service is a fine sentiment, and publishing special sections as we are doing today is fine, too, but our veterans deserve more than our respect.

Uncle Sam made a deal with our veterans that if they went were they were told to go and did what they were told to do, he would take care of them in terms of health care for service-related issues.

As anyone who has been paying attention knows, our Veterans Administration is a troubled agency. Somehow, Congress knew hundreds of thousands of Americans were going to war these past 14 years, but they couldn’t figure on needing additional resources at the VA to take care of the wounded coming home?

The hawks in Congress who love sending people to fight wars overseas are now balking at holding up their end of the deal on the back end?

That’s not right.

Backlogs at VA facilities around the country have resulted in more than a few veterans dying before they got the care they needed. Even locally, appointments for medical care are made months and months in advance. Worse, some VA officials have fudged the numbers to make the agency’s woes look less so.

Shameful.

Key personnel, including the VA leader, have changed, but the problem persists.

This matter is a national disgrace.

If supporting veterans means more than putting on a bumper sticker or flying a flag on Veterans Day, make sure your elected representatives know how you feel about this matter.

___

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Nov. 4, 2015

The public should know

A reader the other day sent along a note to chastise this newspaper for publication of a story.

The story was, unfortunately, reflective of a fairly regular occurrence in our neck of the woods, and certainly others. A public school teacher had been arrested, accused of a sexual impropriety with a student.

What’s the point?

Reporting when criminal charges are filed against individuals is vital to keeping the public informed about what’s happening within the community.

The newspaper should not have printed the story, the reader suggested. Nothing has been proven. Yet the newspaper has ruined the man’s life, the reader’s theory asserted. The man’s name and picture should not be printed until he has been proven guilty, the reader suggested.

Newspapers, however, are not in the cover-up business, nor should they be. Is the community served by sweeping such allegations out of the light until some final resolution of judicial proceedings? Or are their questions that need to be answered when a teacher is suddenly gone from the classroom and criminal charges are filed? Is the public better served by being aware of the situation or by extraordinary steps to protect the accused?

Every day, newspapers across the country contain stories about people charged with crimes, ranging from murder to driving while intoxicated. All people charged are innocent until proven guilty within the judicial system. When should the public learn of such matters? And if it’s a matter of public record, should media outlets ignore the information until a guilty verdict is rendered? Or wait until an appeal? Or the appeal after that?

Where should one draw that elusive line? Should, for example, said teacher be permitted to keep teaching? And if the local superintendent and school board allowed that to happen, would parents have some right to be upset if they later discovered what had happened?

The public deserves to be armed with information, especially about events happening within their neighborhoods and communities.

Another story hit our radar, somewhat related. A man is suing a deputy prosecuting attorney in Washington County. The man had been criminally charged in 2010 amid accusations he exposed himself to a young child. A few months later, prosecutors dropped the charges against him. As responsible newspapers should do, the newspaper involved conducted interviews and published a story in which the prosecutor explained the decision to drop the charge.

In doing so, the accused man alleges, the prosecutor defamed him.

In court, the deputy prosecutor raised the question of whether he, as an agent of the state performing his job, had immunity that protected him from being sued. A local judge ruled that was a matter for a jury to decide. The Arkansas Court of Appeals last week disagreed, saying such a finding is squarely the responsibility of the circuit judge, so the higher court sent the case back to the local judge for a ruling.

But the larger question remains: Is the public served if prosecutors — acting on the authority of the public — cannot even speak to the issues involved in dropping a case?

Granted, no one would rightly suggest there haven’t been abuses. Remember the famed Duke University lacrosse case, in which players were accused of rape? The district attorney in that case was disbarred for outright fabrications leading to a “rush to accuse.”

But prosecutors should have immunity from being sued by defendants. Anything short of that could have a chilling effect on prosecutions themselves, and certainly has an unacceptable impact on the kind of information the public needs as it constantly monitors its community.

If no such immunity exists, state lawmakers should make sure it does so prosecutors can do their jobs without having to fear years of litigation for simply doing the jobs the public asked them to do. When charges are dropped, prosecutors should be free to explain that situation with as much vigor as they might have in announcing when criminal charges are filed.

The public also has a responsibility to not assume anyone’s guilt, to allow the judicial process to work things out.

Just like the rest of our neighbors in Northwest Arkansas, we would love to see the day when such crimes were not necessary to report because they no longer exist. That day isn’t coming soon, however. The responsible and accurate reporting of developments within the local judicial systems is a necessity to ensure the public is aware of potential threats and so the public can monitor how the powers of prosecution and judicial discretion are carried out.

Keeping such information from the public isn’t a solution at all.

___

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