A decision remains pending in federal court as to whether Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey and his attorney Michael Laux will face penalties and be ordered to pay approximately $ 48,000 in legal fees incurred by a labor union. police due to a now dismissed lawsuit against the chief. his opponents.
Humphrey filed the original complaint, which was later amended, on September 30, 2020, after the chief resisted a series of legal complaints filed by colleagues in the police department who mainly claimed retaliation related to the aftermath of a shooting policewoman in 2019.
In the counter-suit filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Humphrey claimed that leaders of the largest local police union – the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 17 – as well as many others had conspired to oust him. from his work.
U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. granted motions in September to dismiss the lawsuit.
Part of the rationale given by the judge was that the count’s claim of free speech retaliation did not apply because Humphrey was a public employee when he made statements expressing his policing philosophy before he went. start as a chef in Little Rock.
After the judge’s ruling, Laux suggested that the claims could be re-filed because the complaint was dismissed without prejudice.
Contacted by email this week, Debby Linton Ferguson, a lawyer representing the police union and its leaders, said she could not say when the judge might rule on the pending petitions for sanctions and fees. lawyer.
âAs I’m sure you’ve seen, COVID has caused a lot of backlog in the court system,â Ferguson wrote. “Unfortunately, I don’t know when to expect the court to rule.”
At the end of August, lawyers for the police union filed a petition for sanctions, arguing that Humphrey and his lawyer had advanced claims made for an improper purpose, unjustified by applicable law and lacked evidence in violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Law. Procedure.
Targeting the chief’s amended complaint for an alleged failure to properly cite existing law, police union attorneys in a supporting brief wrote that on at least nine occasions Humphrey “made a vague attempt to argue that its allegations are justified by the law in force without citing any law, case law or any other authority.
The complaints based on the law governing equal protection and the civil rights conspiracy were unfounded because they must each be brought against a state actor, which the union and its leaders are not, according to the brief.
Humphrey’s statements regarding his philosophy of policing were not protected speeches under the First Amendment as they were made in his capacity as chief of police, according to the brief, despite the claim that Humphrey made these statements. statements while he was a private citizen before his date of hire. with Little Rock.
Lawyers later wrote that the complaint appeared to be an attempt to retaliate against the union and its members for their advocacy work on behalf of leaders, arguing that the judge should conclude that “it is simply an attempt to harass and intimidate [union]. “
The brief called for sanctions against Humphrey and Laux in an amount to be determined by the court, as well as costs and fees incurred by the union and its management defending itself against the lawsuit.
In late September, after the lawsuit was dismissed, Moody, in an order filed on September 29, denied a request by Laux for leave to file a statement in response to the pending sanctions motion, writing that the plaintiff had missed an earlier deadline to file. the answer.
In a motion for attorney’s fees filed the same day, lawyers for the Fraternal Order of Police requested that Humphrey and Laux be ordered to pay just over $ 48,000, or another appropriate amount, to cover their costs. legal.
In a response to the motion, counsel for Humphrey wrote that it could be established that Humphrey was not employed in his former position as Chief of the Norman, Okla Police Department, at the time he delivered a speech after his resignation in which he discussed his police philosophy.
Laux included a statement signed by Humphrey in which the chief said his last day as a Norman employee was April 3, 2019, and a farewell speech in which he discussed his policing philosophy took place two days later while he did not have his gun and was not wearing his badge.
The gun was returned to him on April 5 as a gift after it was engraved by colleagues, the statement said.
Moreover, Laux argued that the union leaders were engaged in joint activities with the state, which makes the complaint reasonable even if the court were to consider that the union and its members were not state actors as such. .
The intention of the argument was “not to call into question previous rulings but, rather, to prove good faith by bringing his non-frivolous lawsuit,” said the response filed by Laux.