Great Arkansas Seal in a Washington County courtroom. Thursday June 21, 2018 (Andy Shupe)
Attorney Chris Burks has dismissed all litigation – three lawsuits – over the involvement of Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey under a sanctions avoidance agreement by Pulaski County Judge Chris Piazza.
In the piazza, Burks withdrew from a lawsuit against Humphrey on Wednesday instead of having Judge Burks removed for contempt of court.
Piazza ruled that Burks had violated a court order in the attorney’s dealings with newspaper reporters by using materials the sides had agreed would remain secret. Piazza said Burks went beyond representing his client’s interest in the litigation. Burks didn’t return a message on Friday looking for a comment.
Chief and city lawyers had requested sanctions after Burks showed an Arkansas Democrat Gazette reporter and a Washington Post columnist text messages from Humphrey mocking the performance of some junior officers. The lawyers said the texts could not be published because they included criticism of job performance. The information state law allows it to remain secret, except in certain circumstances.
They wanted the judge to despise Burks and make him swear under oath to answer questions about which reporters he had spoken to and whether he had passed anything else on.
Burks denied any willful misconduct and told Piazza that the journalists already owned the text messages and that those he included in his emails were only used to clarify the context of the messages with reporters.
Burks said Humphrey had similarly made documents available to the Washington Post, and his attorneys had also uncovered materials believed to be classified by referring to Humphrey’s federal lawsuit against the chief’s critics in the department, which included at least five of Burks’ ‘Clients belong, related to it. City lawyers said they could not find any evidence that the boss did anything wrong.
The texts were published in a Nov. 28 article by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, but Washington Post opinion writer Radley Balko did not address the contents of the material other than to reveal that Burks gave him a confidential interview about the lawsuit would have. Balko also announced that Humphrey had been a source, but said the materials the police chief had given him were provided before the court secrecy order was in place.
Burks told the judge that he expected Piazza to disqualify him and that his client had already made arrangements to possibly find new legal representation. The judge said he would find no formal disdain if Burks turned away from the case entirely. Deputy Chief Hayward Finks and two other officers, one of whom was Finks’ brother, called for retaliation against Humphrey.
The Finks lawsuit accuses Humphrey of taking revenge on Finks for his testimony of the internal investigation into a fatal police shot because Finks’ version of events contradicted Humphrey’s report and publicly embarrassed the boss. Finks claimed that Humphrey went after his brother and friend to get to him.
Burks withdrew Thursday from another lawsuit based on similar allegations. That lawsuit was brought by Deputy Chief Alice Fulk, who is now the Capitol Police Chief, and Lt. Christina Plummer submitted.
There was one lawsuit against Humphrey seeking retaliation based on the same allegations made by Captain Marcus Paxton, but Burks had already decided to withdraw that lawsuit before Piazza made its decision.
The third lawsuit Burks dropped after the judge ruled was a freedom of information lawsuit he filed against Humphrey and the city for documents showing all payments to Humphrey since he was hired, as well as any emails between City directors and the prosecutor concern chief.
Prior to retiring from the lawsuit, Burks had won a freedom of information lawsuit in which the boss was involved. Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen sided with three officers and one department employee in November to include their personnel files. Humphrey wrongly withheld from them. Burks pending petition before the judge for the city to pay legal fees and litigation costs of US $ 5,167.