Lawyer salary

Arkansas justice hears mask case despite attorney’s claim of bias

A special associate judge in Arkansas Superior Court has refused to recuse himself from a lawsuit over a school district’s mask policy despite claims that his prior work biased him against an attorney.

Matt Sitton, Matthew Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett have sued the Bentonville School District, alleging that its mask policy violates their fundamental right to the care, custody and management of their children. The circuit court issued a preliminary injunction restraining the policy.

On appeal to the Arkansas High Court, Bentonville School Board attorney Marshall Ney of Friday Eldredge & Clark LLP asked Special Associate Judge Howard W. Brill to recuse himself based on an “adverse opinion” issued when Brill was a lawyer.

Brill denied this request. Justice said he was retained to provide a professional ethics analysis of Ney in 2014, and there was no reason to question his impartiality.

“At no time have I been involved in a contentious and personal dispute with Mr. Ney,” Brill wrote in the notice Thursday. “Indeed, to my knowledge, I have never met or spoken with him.”

The respondents are represented by Story Law Firm PLLC.

The case is Bentonville Sch. Dist. vs. Sitton, Ark., No. CV-21-498, 1/13/22.