State should pay authorized charges for Prairie Grove lawyer who misplaced contract after criticizing Arkansas consultant

A federal judge’s finding that two senior Arkansas court administrators violated the First Amendment rights of a Prairie Grove lawyer by canceling his employment contract means the state must pay his $42,041 in legal expenses for his ACLU attorneys.

U.S. District Judge D.P. Marshall Jr. entered his order directing the payment on Wednesday. The judge had ordered Casey Copeland’s contract to represent abused and neglected children reinstated in August and extended through the upcoming fiscal year.

In June, Copeland sued Marty Sullivan, director of the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts, and Copeland’s supervisor, Stasia Burk McDonald, who heads the agency’s dependency-neglect attorney ad litem program, which provides lawyers for children, on free-speech grounds.

Represented by attorneys Johnathan Horton and Bettina Brownstein of the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Copeland accused Sullivan and McDonald of violating his free-speech rights by terminating his contract to appease his state representative, state Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, after Fite had reported that Copeland had criticized her efforts to restrict medical care for transgender children.

Copeland’s contract was cancelled without notice two days after Fite reported Copeland’s criticism of her sponsorship of House Bill 1570, which was passed into law in April by the General Assembly as the Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act, overriding a veto by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Copeland’s professional services contract originally paid him $35,000 at a rate of $900 per case based on an annual caseload of 35 cases with an additional $3,500 for expenses. When his duties were increased, his total compensation was raised to $39,000.

Sullivan is paid $145,615 a year while McDonald is paid $99,662. Copeland had worked for the ad litem program for five years before becoming a contracting attorney in 2017. His contract was renewed annually until this year.

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