A judge has thrown out a lawsuit by the city of Little Rock that attempted to stop two potential candidates for mayor from using exploratory committees to raise money.
The city argued that Frank Scott, Jr. and Warwick Sabin should follow a city ordinance that prohibits raising campaign money until June. But the ordinance doesn’t mention exploratory committees for all but formally declared candidates like Sabin and Scott.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox ruled Tuesday that their exploratory committees are legally set up legally under state law, and dismissed the suit against them and the Arkansas Ethics Commission, which had previously refused to intervene in the case.
Sabin told KUAR News he was pleased with Fox’s decision.
"It affirmed every argument that we made and it also confirmed what we knew from the beginning, which was that state law allows me to form an exploratory campaign as I decide whether or not to become a candidate for mayor later this year," Sabin said.
Scott called the ruling "a vindication."
"I’m very pleased that Judge Fox dismissed the city’s claims and cleared me of any wrongdoing. This case has been an inappropriate attempt by Mayor Mark Stodola using city resources to compel others to infringe upon our first amendment rights," Scott told KUAR News.
That city ordinance also bars incumbents from carrying over funds from past elections, but Mayor Stodola still has about $78,000 from his last reelection bid.
Stodola has previously refused to comment on the lawsuit, referring questions to the city attorney. Tuesday he released a written statement, saying:
Contrary to the exaggerated comments by Frank Scott and Warwick Sabin that this lawsuit was an action prompted by me, it was not. I have intentionally been silent on the matter. The City, by a motion of the Board of Directors did the responsible thing by asking the court for a declaratory judgement [sic] on a good government ordinance that has been in place for 20 years. No one is trying to prevent Scott and Sabin from running for mayor. That is laughable.
Stodola also said the ruling "allows would-be candidates to continue to intentionally circumvent the laws of the city that they are seeking to lead, including the ordinance in question which the court stated was valid on its face."
He said the unresolved questions on the scope of a recent Arkansas Supreme Court ruling on sovereign immunity may be a good reason for an appeal to the state’s high court. That decision will need to be made by the Little Rock Board of Directors, over whose meetings the mayor presides.