The Constitutional Challenge to Arkansas Sunshine is Getting Weird…

A western Arkansas judge has refused a request from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to review a ruling against part of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, a move likely to send the case to the state Supreme Court.

Sebastian County Circuit Judge James Cox said in a brief letter Tuesday that he didn’t see the need to temporarily halt the effect of his Oct. 4 ruling declaring that the criminal penalty of the state sunshine law was unconstitutional.

The judge also denied the attorney general’s request to intervene in the case so his office could formally defend the law in court.

“I conducted a trial in this case in which the issues were thoroughly presented after notice had been given to all interested parties,” Cox said in his letter. “I have been unable to discern any new information … which compels me to amend the final order which was entered in this case.”

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act has a possible criminal penalty, a misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail, for violators of the law. When the city of Fort Smith was sued by a local attorney over several conversations between the former city administrator and board members, Fort Smith’s attorneys argued the law was too vague for the criminal penalty to be fair.

Cox agreed, saying in his decision that the state Supreme Court had erred in previous rulings on the law and the Arkansas Legislature needed to clarify whether sending emails, making phone calls or handing out material before a meeting could be considered a violation.

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