Justice Robert Brown retiring from state high court

Judge was elected to the court in 1990

By John Lynch
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court has blazed new trails in addressing privacy rights, funding for public education, tort changes, term limits and separation of powers, among other areas, one of its most senior members says in a retrospective of his two decades on the state’s highest court.

Justice Robert Brown, 71, retired at the close of 2012, after 21 years on the court. He and fellow Justice Donald Corbin were elected to the seven-member court in 1990. Their terms expire in 2014, and the governor has appointed state Court of Appeals Judge Cliff Hoofman of Enola to serve the last two years of Brown’s term.

Brown is “a law professor’s ideal of an appellate judge,” said professor Ken Gould of the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Gould, a faculty member since 1996, said Brown takes experience from all three branches of government to the bench. He cited Brown’s service as an aide to Dale Bumpers while Bumpers was a U.S. senator and Arkansas governor. Brown was an assistant to Jim Guy Tucker when the now-former governor served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Brown also has been in private practice and was a Pulaski County prosecutor.

Gould said he’s come to know Brown through their work together on the high court’s committee dealing with the rules of civil procedure.

“During his tenure, he’s been a leader in moving the court to being highly regarded,” Gould said, citing a 2008 study by the University of Chicago that reviewed all of the state supreme courts over a two-year period. That study ranked the Arkansas Supreme Court as the second-best in the nation, based on its independence from partisanship, its productivity in issuing opinions and the quality of those opinions, measured in part by how often courts in other jurisdictions cite those rulings.

In a tribute to Brown, his fellow justices saluted his writing abilities and his jurisprudence.

“Justice Brown’s scholarship is obvious in the many opinions that he authored over the years,” his fellow justices wrote. “He leaves a large body of well-crafted opinions.”

The court noted that he has written several “landmark” opinions, including two rulings regarding privacy rights and school funding.

Brown has written an overview of his tenure, touching on 16 issues and cases before the court between 1991 and 2011, for the winter edition of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review at ualr.edu/lawreview.

Brown is the court’s most published member, but his 33-page article is the first time he’s written for the legal journal since a 1998 piece on judicial elections, a longtime interest, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

“We were very flattered and very honored,” said Editor-in-Chief Abtin Mehdizadegan, a third-year law student from Maine who is overseeing the 35th annual edition, which was due out by the end of 2012.

“These decisions ... underscore the quality of the Supreme Court’s work and evidence the impact our court has had over the past two decades on both the state’s jurisprudence and the nation’s as well,” Brown wrote.

History will be the final judge of the court’s accomplishments, Brown said in an interview, when asked about the significance of his observations. Preparing to leave office has made him retrospective, he said. Brown said he wanted to present readers with a more comprehensive view of the court’s achievements as opposed to the daily reporting, which is usually narrowly tailored to a single case or issue.

The review begins with privacy rights as established under the Arkansas Constitution, but Brown said readers shouldn’t put too much significance in the order the cases are presented.

The 33-page article also touches on protections against excessive police searches, congressional term limits, restrictions on arbitrary spending by the Legislature, lending practices and court scrutiny of death penalty cases.

“To me, they’re basically all on an equal plane,” he said. “Those are snapshots of what the court does. I wanted ... to do something more comprehensive for the last 22 years, to pull it all together and give a sense of what we have done in a variety of areas.”

Brown said he hopes the article gives readers a new perspective on the work the court does and helps dissolve the notion that the courts are filled with activist judges.

“I hope people take away from it that we are a serious and studious group of men and women that study the cases and do the research,” he said. “We take a case and we study it and we make a decision based on the law and the arguments and the facts.

“I’m hopeful people will come away with the idea that this is a group of men and women who really have their noses to the grindstone.”


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