- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

The Jonesboro Sun, Oct. 30, 2015

State shouldn’t engage in backroom drug deals

Should the state be allowed to keep secret the suppliers and manufacturers of drugs and the drugs themselves used to carry out executions in Arkansas? That’s the question before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen.

Arkansas Act 1096, signed into law earlier this year, requires the state Department of Correction to keep secret “the entities and persons who compound, test, sell or supply the drug or drugs” used in the execution process.

Nine Arkansas inmates are challenging the constitutionality of the secrecy clause as well as a three-drug concoction authorized to be used in the execution process, claiming use of the drugs could lead to cruel and unusual punishment.

A hearing Tuesday in Griffen’s courtroom revealed a quite peculiar relationship between the state and the company or companies that supplied drugs to be used for upcoming executions.

It appears, by an assistant attorney general’s own admission, a company that sold the state drugs to be used for executions had contracts with the drugs’ manufacturers prohibiting the toxins from being sold for use in executions. According to The Associated Press, the assistant attorney general, Jennifer Merritt, said the company supplied the state with the drugs to carry out executions despite contracts with manufacturers prohibiting such actions. And in a sworn affidavit, Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley said the drug supplier only agreed to sell the state the drugs after it was promised that the state’s secrecy law would protect the company’s identity.

The AP used the state Freedom of Information Act to obtain redacted label information from the drugs the state holds to carry out executions. Using the label information, the AP was able to identify three potential manufacturers by matching the labels through FDA and National Institutes of Health label archives. All three companies were contacted, and representatives told the AP they did not want their products used for lethal injections.

“A representative of one company said it was trying to confirm Arkansas had its midazolam, but the state would not return its calls,” the AP’s Claudia Lauer reported of the drug that’s used as a sedative.

An ADC spokesperson later told the AP the state’s secrecy law barred the department from confirming to a manufacturer that it was in possession of drugs it supplied to a seller.

So it appears a secrecy law allows the state to enter backroom deals with drug suppliers that directly violate suppliers’ contracts with drug manufacturers.

Through its arrangements, is the state not participating in a scheme with drug suppliers to ignore and violate contracts with manufacturers? Is the state not encouraging deceitful practices?

In essence, the drug supplier told the state, “We can’t sell you that drug because we have a contract with the manufacturer prohibiting its products from being used in executions.” And the state responded, “It’s OK. Don’t worry about it. Calm down. We’ll keep it all secret, and the manufacturer will never know you sold it to us. We promise. It’ll be our little secret.”

So did these transactions take place in state buildings or dark alleyways? Given the arrangement, the latter would be fitting. Is this what we can expect from state government, to knowingly scheme to obtain drugs fraudulently? Can the state justify that because it is for the “greater good” of Arkansas?

The best way to evaluate this process is to set the subject matter aside. We’re talking about men sentenced to die for heinous crimes committed against mankind. It’s easy to take the “whatever it takes” stance on this because of who if affects. It’s rather difficult to be sympathetic to the likes of child killers and such. But that’s not what this is about. This is about the state knowingly helping businesses cheat one another for its own benefit. Individuals go to jail or pay hefty fines and penalties for similar behavior. The state, on the other hand, gets to kill a couple guys.

Our state and its leaders should conduct business ethically and morally, but there’s nothing ethical or moral about this.

___

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Nov. 3, 2015

The way things are done

Gov. Asa Hutchinson “absolutely” has all the faith in the world in Michael Lamoureux, his chief of staff, according to Hutchinson’s spokesman.

And that absolutely puts a dent in the faith we have in Asa Hutchinson and the way government business is conducted in Little Rock.

What’s the point?

Two public officials have provided recent examples of how government works in the state Capitol, and the picture it paints isn’t pretty.

Lamoureux was a state senator from Russellville who also served in 2013-2014 as the president pro tempore, the top leadership position within the state Senate. He was paid $17,770 a year to fill that part-time role.

But don’t feel too sorry about Lamoureux’s low pay. As it turns out, at the same time he led the Senate, his law firm was paid $120,000 by the Arkansas Faith and Freedom Coalition, a review of recent tax documents show.

Why? The ubiquitous term “consulting” seems to cover the job description for the coalition, which is now defunct. The Faith and Freedom Coalition was a branch of the national organization founded by conservative activist Ralph Reed.

This little funding arrangement was done within the bounds of the law, Lamoureux says. Naturally, the people of Arkansas, within the bounds of the law, often learn of such entanglements of public officials only after they’ve moved on. To $113,212-a-year jobs wielding influence in the governor’s office. For the coalition and its goals, perhaps $120,000 has turned out to be a good investment.

The coalition got its money primarily from six people or businesses. One of them was nursing home owner Michael Morton, who is a defendant with former Conway state Sen. Gilbert Baker in a lawsuit that accuses them of conspiring to bribe a judge. That judge reduced a Faulkner County jury’s May 2013 judgment in a negligence lawsuit against one of Morton’s nursing homes. The former circuit judge, Michael Maggio, pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge in January. He is set to be sentenced Feb. 26 in U.S. District Court in Little Rock.

Other contributors came from tobacco influences such as $50,000 from RAI Services Co. of Winston-Salem, N.C. and $10,000 Altria Client Services of Austin, Texas.

And, oh yeah, Gilbert Baker was executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Freedom Coalition the year before Lamoureux’s firm got the $120,000 fee. Even as a direct staffer, however, Baker made about half of what flowed to Lamoureux. No doubt that had nothing to do with Lamoureux’s role as president pro tempore of the Arkansas Senate.

Indeed, Lamoureux says he followed the rules. Which means he’s smart enough to have researched which steps to take, like Indiana Jones hopping from rock to rock to avoid triggering any deadly darts as he pursued a golden idol.

Legal? Well, keep in mind who writes the laws, so yes, it probably is. But does it smell right?

What this reveals is how business is done at the state Capitol. Tiptoeing through the legal tulips to ensure an infusion of $120,000 is legally justifiable. Absolute faith in Lamoureux? That’s a lot of faith when Lamoureux, by his own actions, has left at least the ethical waters quite murky.

How is business done in Little Rock? Let’s keep in mind another story recently emerging, this one involving state Sen. Jake Files of Fort Smith. Files earlier this year accepted a $30,000 loan from DBH Management Consultants, a lobbying firm operated by Bruce Hawkins.

That loan came to light when a reporter reviewed lobbying reports required by law for the second and third quarters of the year. The original reports filed didn’t mention the loans. But they were later amended to include them. Perhaps someone believed an amendment after the fact might not get much scrutiny.

Files said he used the loan proceeds to pay bills - including a hot check - for his construction business.

Former state Senate chief of staff Bill Lancaster, in a recent talk to the Political Animals Club in Little Rock, said what we believe most Arkansans also believe: “Lobbyists should not be loaning money to members who are going to turn around and ask them how (they) should vote on something. That’s common sense,” he said.

What is it about serving in public office that sometimes erodes one’s understanding of common sense?

Files said there was no conflict of interest, but he “can see how the appearance of conflict would be there.”

Let’s see. If a rank-and-file constituent with a concern calls his state senator and a lobbyist who provided a $30,000 loan calls that senator, who probably has the attention of the lawmaker? These lawmakers convince themselves they’re above being improperly influenced. They’re not.

Did anyone break the law? Apparently not, but it’s amazing what kind of deals people at the state Capitol, who are supposed to be representing the people of their districts and the state overall, can justify. Neither the loan nor the “consulting” fee would exist if these gentlemen were not powerful people in state government.

So now, the governor has a chief of staff whose judgment is, at the least, questionable. And the governor has full faith in him?

Just business, as usual.

___

Texarkana Gazette, Oct. 28, 2015

Victims as well

We run stories about heinous crimes in this paper on a regular basis.

Some may not like it. They want to see more good news. We understand that.

But it’s our job to inform - and that means the bad as well as the good.

It’s important for readers to see the justice system play out. There is a crime. There is an investigation. Then in most cases an arrest, a trial and, if the suspect is convicted, punishment. Most of us think of punishment as justice for the victim. And that’s true.

But there is more to the story. The aftermath of crime that seldom makes print.

Because in many crimes there are multiple victims. No, they may never have encountered the perpetrator, never been assaulted or killed. But they are victims nonetheless

They are the spouses, significant others and family members of those who are murdered, beaten, sexually assaulted, abused. They suffer as well.

Two weeks ago, a 53-year-old man named David Stevens was taking a morning jog along White Rock Creek Trail in Dallas.

While on his run, he was attacked with a machete. Police arrested a suspect- a former Texas A&M; football player - who allegedly called 911 after the slaying and confessed.

Stevens left behind a wife, his college sweetheart named Patti. After his death she was interviewed by the Dallas Morning News. She told the paper she was having trouble eating, sleeping and thinking clearly. She said she had lost the love of her life.

On Sunday, friends discovered Patti Stevens in her Sunnyvale, Texas, garage, east of Dallas. She had apparently committed suicide over the weekend.

Her husband’s killer now has the blood of two people on his hands. But Patti Stevens will never see justice. Not for her husband. And not for herself.

Crime victims’ loved ones seldom commit suicide. And you don’t often see their stories in the headlines. Their suffering usually remains hidden from view for months or years or even decades. But the suffering is real.

It’s important to remember that whenever you read about a crime, a trial, a prison sentence, an execution. There’s more to the story than anyone knows.

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