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Harris takes issue with lawyer, judge in civil lawsuit

Harris takes issue with lawyer, judge in civil lawsuit

July 16th, 2018 by Lynn LaRowe in Local News
Laney Harris

Texarkana, Ark., Ward 2 Director Laney Harris is asking that the lawyer representing two RailFest volunteers Harris is suing for defamation be sanctioned and Harris isn't happy with the state supreme court's choice of judge to preside over the case.

Harris filed a civil suit in Miller County circuit court against DeAnna O'Malley and James Zumwalt in June in connection with the 2017 RailFest community festival at which both volunteered their time. Texarkana lawyer Steve Harrelson has filed a motion to dismiss Harris' claims along with a supporting brief.

Harrelson's filings include a certificate of service which indicates copies of a motion and brief were sent to Harris via regular U.S. mail. Harris' motion for sanctions accuses Harrelson of lying on the certificate of service. Harris attached a copy of an envelope, which shows he received the documents via certified mail, return receipt requested.

Harrelson filed a response to Harris' motion for sanctions in which he states duplicate copies were mailed both regular and certified mail.

"Defendants wanted to avoid a situation where the Plaintiff may assert that he did not receive the pleadings," Harrelson's response states.

Harris filed an amended motion for sanctions last week in which he persists in his demand that Harrelson be sanctioned and states he never received the copy sent by regular U.S. mail. Harris is representing himself.

"The plaintiff did not received the any document in question until he when and signed and show his driver license on about the June 25, 2018, at the post office priors to him leaving going out of town until Friday June 29, 2018 (sic)," Harris' amended motion for sanctions states. "The plaintiff motion for sanction is for false certification of how document were send and this were done to miss led this court on how and when it could rule and greatly effect the outcome of this case (sic)."

Harris appears to be accusing Harrelson of attempting to cause him to miss filing deadlines on purpose.

Since Harris filed his original complaint June 7, all three of the circuit judges who serve Miller County have recused from the case. The recusals prompted the Arkansas Supreme Court to appoint Circuit Judge Tom Cooper, who serves in a nearby jurisdiction, to preside over the matter. Cooper was previously appointed to oversee another case Harris filed against the City of Texarkana, Ark., involving the towing of abandoned cars.

Harris complained in that case that a city ordinance allowing for the removal of abandoned cars is unconstitutional.

Harris filed a motion asking Cooper to recuse himself in the suit alleging defamation because Harris believes he didn't get a fair shake from Cooper in the car-towing case.

Harris states that at a hearing April 1, 2016, Cooper "for some reason" allowed the defendants to argue first. The motions being addressed in court at the hearing included two motions filed by the defense; a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment. It is typical courtroom procedure for the moving party, in this case the defense, to argue first.

Harris also states that in light of Cooper's decision to grant the defense's motions on all but a single issue in the car-towing case, he doesn't believe Cooper will treat him fairly in his defamation suit against the volunteers. In the car-towing case, Cooper adopted many findings made by a federal judge in a nearly identical suit in 2014. The only issue left open was whether agents of the city acted with malice or ill will when the city attempted to tow two non-street legal vehicles from Harris' front yard in 2012.

Harris prevented the towing of his cars and was issued a citation for interfering with governmental operations. That charge was later dismissed by a city prosecutor without a court hearing.

At an April hearing in the car-towing case, Harris agreed to a dismissal of the suit so long as no record of him being issued a citation exists in the Arkansas Crime Information Center. In May, Hot Springs lawyer Burt Newell, who represents the city of Texarkana, Ark., in the car-towing case, sent a letter to the court and to Harris asking that Harris contact him when he is satisfied that the record of the citation is not preserved in ACIC so that Newell can prepare an agreed order dismissing the case for both he and Harris to sign and jointly file. The May 25 letter is the last document filed in the case and the matter remains open.

Harris filed suit against O'Malley and Zumwalt in connection with a public censure he received from his fellow board members in June 2017 and his removal from the city's Advertising & Promotion Commission at the same time. O'Malley organized RailFest 2017 and Zumwalt was a volunteer. Zumwalt confronted Harris about allegedly taking pictures in a secretive manner at the event. Harris' encounter with Zumwalt is among three reasons given by the board for Harris' censure and removal from the A&P Commission.

Harris accuses O'Malley and Zumwalt of ruining his reputation and cites a comment made in the Gazette by a fellow board member as evidence. Harrelson filed a motion to dismiss the case. The motion denies O'Malley and Zumwalt ever said Harris was climbing trees at RailFest and denies they are guilty of defamation, slander and a number of other civil torts alleged by Harris.

No hearings are scheduled in the defamation suit.

At about the same time Harris filed suit against O'Malley and Zumwalt in state court, he filed a similar suit against the city, his fellow board members and Mayor Ruth Penney-Bell in the Texarkana Division of the Western District of Arkansas federal court. Harris asks the federal court to declare the board's censure of him "null and void" and accuses the defendants of violating his civil rights.

None of the defendants in the federal case have yet filed a response to Harris' complaint. The case is pending before U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey. Harris is representing himself in all of his pending lawsuits.


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