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Justice and Due Process: The Battle over Attorney Interim Suspensions in Arkansas

Attorney Interim Suspensions in Arkansas:

In this case (2023 Ark. 151), the petitioner, Asa Hutchison, is an attorney and relative to the former governor, had his law license temporarily suspended by the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct. The suspension was an interim measure based on allegations of misconduct. Hutchinson was arrested on January 13, 2023, for various criminal charges, including felony possession of a controlled substance, driving while intoxicated (second offense), and refusal to submit to a chemical test.

On January 17, just four days after his arrest, the Office of Professional Conduct filed a petition for Hutchinson's suspension, which the Committee granted on January 20. Hutchinson sought emergency relief from the Supreme Court, which granted expedited consideration and remanded the case to the Committee to analyze the relevant factors outlined in Tapp v. Ligon (2013 Ark. 259, 428 S.W.3d 492). The Committee subsequently filed an amended order on March 30.

The Supreme Court, after conducting a de novo review of the Committee's decision, granted Hutchinson's petition for a writ of certiorari and lifted the interim suspension. The court expressed concerns about the lack of uniform treatment in similar cases, citing an example of another attorney, Everett Martindale, who had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud but had his license suspended months after his guilty plea. The court emphasized the importance of providing attorneys with notice and a hearing before imposing an interim suspension, stating that it preferred such suspensions to occur primarily after a hearing to ensure due process.

However, the dissenting justices, Baker, Hudson, and Wynne, disagreed with the majority's decision. They highlighted Hutchinson's history of misconduct, including previous encounters with law enforcement, and argued that the Committee's imposition of the interim suspension was justified based on substantial evidence of his pattern of criminal behavior and substance abuse. They emphasized that the practice of law is a privilege and that interim suspensions can be necessary to protect the public and maintain the integrity of the legal profession.

The dissent also suggested considering amendments to the rules to provide some form of notice prior to imposing an interim suspension. They noted that while the majority's decision highlighted the lack of a requirement for a hearing before an interim suspension, other states and the American Bar Association's Model Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement include provisions for providing attorneys with notice before such suspensions.

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