LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A special judge presiding over four hot-check cases in Sherwood has dismissed one of them and also declined to recuse himself in connection with a comment he recently made in which he wished a related federal lawsuit would fail.

North Little Rock District Judge Jim Hamilton dismissed 40-year-old Nikki Petree’s case Monday because she paid restitution, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ( ) reported.

Hamilton was assigned the cases after Petree and the other defendants sued Sherwood District Judge Milas Hale III and others in federal court, alleging the prosecution and District Court oversight of their cases cultivated a “debtors prison’ that infringes on their civil rights.

The lawsuit says the court has levied thousands of dollars in court costs against them and required they serve jail time because they can’t afford to pay. It also argues the court did not properly examine whether they could afford to pay and denied them legal counsel by requiring them to waive their right to an attorney so they can enter the courtroom.

The defendants in that suit have disputed most of the claims.

Attorney Reggie Koch said Hamilton said in court he believed the federal lawsuit lacked merit. According to Koch, the defendants asked for a “neutral magistrate that doesn’t have an opinion about their federal lawsuit” to preside over the cases against them.

Hamilton said he did not recall voicing the opinion, but didn’t dispute Koch.

“I think I can be fair,” Hamilton said. “I’m going to hear the cases.”

Hamilton said he expects the remaining three cases to be resolved before he retires at the end of the year.

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,

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