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Ethics panel dismisses complaint over Arkansas court's handling of gay marriage case


LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A judicial ethics panel on Wednesday dismissed a complaint against members of the Arkansas Supreme Court over its handling of a gay marriage lawsuit, saying it found no wrongdoing that led to delays in the case.

The Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission dismissed the complaint filed against Justices Courtney Goodson, Jo Hart, Karen Baker and Robin Wynne. The court in June dismissed the state's appeal of a judge's ruling striking down Arkansas' gay marriage ban, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

That ruling came several months after Arkansas justices heard oral arguments in November and followed an unusually public dispute on the court over who could participate in the case. The complaint cited criticism from former Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justice Paul Danielson of the court creating a separate case over which justices could hear the appeal.

The ethics panel said the extended time before the court ruled was due to procedural issues, and it couldn't find any evidence of judicial misconduct.

"The lack of information to the public, the absence of written internal rules of the court and the nature of this case contributed to suspicion about the reason for the court not rendering a decision," David Sachar, the commission's executive director, wrote in a letter to the justices. "Nevertheless, suspicion does not equal proof and this investigation concluded with no proof of wrongdoing on the part of the justices named in the complaint."

Tippi McCullough, the head of the Arkansas Stonewall Democrats who filed the complaint, said she was disappointed in the dismissal but appreciated the panel's work. McCullough said she believed the court left a perception they weren't doing their job by taking so long to rule in the case.

"I believe the Supreme Court was elected to make decisions, whether they're easy or hard decisions," she said. "Politics shouldn't play into it and they should be do what they were elected to do."

Baker said she was pleased by the panel's decision.

"I was pleased to be notified today by the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission that after a diligent and extensive investigation of the complaints that were filed based on the accusations contained in the recusal letters of former Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justice Paul Danielson in the same sex marriage case, the commission has determined that the allegations leading to the investigation have proven to be groundless," Baker said in a statement.

Goodson declined to comment through a spokesman, while Wynne and Hart didn't immediately return calls late Wednesday afternoon.

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