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Probably the biggest difference made by the Arkansas Bar Association in bettering the lives of the citizens of Arkansas over the years has been its sponsorship of improved laws, progressive constitutional amendments, and increased support for the judiciary. As long ago as 1910 the Association had committees on Law and Law Reform, and Uniform State Laws. Frequently the Association has initiated measures or been the catalyst that secured their passage in partnership with other advocates for better legislation and amendments. Often these efforts have taken years to show results and progress usually comes in small increments rather than in sweeping reforms.
As far back as 1916 bar leaders were pointing out the need for a new Arkansas Constitution. Similar calls were made in 1931, 1932, 1946, 1947, 1963 and many other years. The Association was an advocate for the proposed Constitutions of 1970 and 1980 and influenced the language dealing with the judicial system. No complete Constitution has been approved by the voters, but bits and pieces have been changed by amendments initiated, sponsored, and supported by the Association. The most recent example is Amendment 77 passed by the voters on November 3, 1998.
While many authorities believed the highest court of a state has inherent power to regulate the legal profession and the practice of law, that proposition was subject to dispute, especially by legislators. In 1938 the Arkansas Bar Association recommended Amendment 28 to the Arkansas Constitution, clearly giving the Supreme Court the power and authority to "make rules regulating the practice of law and the professional conduct of attorneys at law."
Amendment 58, which established the Court of Appeals, was adopted in 1978 and brought about sweeping improvements in the Arkansas judicial system. The appellate workload was then and continues to be extremely heavy. Without the Court of Appeals delays would be so great today that the system would break down. With this Court in place litigants can achieve resolution of their cases within a reasonable time. The Association also successfully backed a bill in the nineties which expanded the Court from six to twelve judges.
Small claims procedures were almost useless by 1986 because of low jurisdictional limits written into the Constitution long before 20th Century inflation. The Association sponsored what became Amendment 64 which raised the monetary jurisdiction from $300 to $3,000 with authority given to the Legislature to raise this amount in the future. (The jurisdictional limit is now $5,000.) After adoption of the Amendment the Association sponsored legislation which established workable procedures for operation of small claims courts and published information to help citizens use these courts.
Other amendments which the Association successfully sponsored include:
Amendment 66 establishing the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.
Amendment 67 creating a Juvenile Court system.
Amendment 77 permitting the use of retired judges and justices as special judges to substitute for absent judges or alleviate court backlogs.
The Association is ending its 100th year by proposing a new judicial article for the Arkansas Constitution. Approved overwhelmingly last spring by the membership and co-sponsored by the Arkansas Judicial Council, the judicial article represents years of work by attorneys and judges to reform the state's judicial system. The 1999 General Assembly is being asked to refer the article to the voters at the November 2000 election.
While the Association did not hire a lobbyist until 1973, its successful legislative efforts go back far before that time. In 1947 the Association made a major effort to adapt the American Bar Association's model probate code in Arkansas. This effort resulted in the Probate Code of 1949, the Inheritance Act of 1969 and numerous fine tuning amendments in other years.
Construction of the Justice Building on the State Capitol grounds in 1957 was a project in which the Association played a major role.
The 1973 Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC") was an Association project which over the years since its passage has required constant updating to keep it in tune with the changing business environment. Time after time the Association has sponsored changes to the UCC which improve the ability to efficiently conduct business in Arkansas.
The public defender system is the result of years of work by a variety of groups, including the Association, to assure that persons accused of crime are provided with competent counsel when they cannot afford to pay. Before Association involvement the various county systems differed so much that indigent criminal defendants had little likelihood of securing equal justice under law.
For decades some circuit and chancery judges had no assistants at all‹no clerks, no secretaries‹while others had several assistants, depending on their judicial circuit. While the system is still far from uniform, legislation pushed by the Association in the 1990's has assured all trial judges have more help in carrying out their judicial duties.
In these days of citizens moving around the nation and state lines meaning little in commercial transactions, uniform laws have become ever more necessary. The Association has successfully sponsored a great number of uniform laws and also has insured they are updated as needed. Examples in addition to the UCC are the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, Uniform Limited Partnership Act, Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, and Uniform Durable Power of Attorney Act. In the 1999 General Assembly the Association will be advocating the passage of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, and the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act.
Sometimes the most important service of the Association is preventing bad laws from being passed. The Association monitors proposed legislation which may affect the operation of the legal system. Often legislators or legislative committees will request the analysis of the Association on a specific bill.
Periodically the Association will be asked to conduct a comprehensive study of a subject and report its findings to the Legislature. The most recent example is the new Administrative Procedure Act which is being proposed in the 1999 General Assembly.