Liquor battle begins in Marion County

A Marion County liquor store owner filed a lawsuit this week to stop voters from deciding a question that would outlaw the manufacture and sale of alcohol in nine precincts in the county, reports the Associated Press.

The lawsuit on behalf of Debbie Killian contends that petitions in support of putting the proposal before voters in November should be voided and the measure taken off the ballot. Killian owns Hilltop Liquor, one of four package liquor stores in Marion County and the only one inside Precinct 24. That precinct is among the nine targeted districts.

If voters decide to outlaw alcohol sales in Precinct 24, Killian would have to move her liquor store to another “wet” precinct, according to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration. She also could opt to sell the business, contingent upon her state license being transferred to the buyer. Either way, her store on U.S. 62-412 near the Boone County line could no longer operate as a liquor store.

Killian’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday, names Marion County as a defendant along with Circuit Clerk Dee Carleton, who certified that the petitions had the sufficient number of voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The other defendants are county election commissioners Harold Meyer, Mary Jo Layton and Raymond Mayo, who placed the question on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

Killian’s lawyers, Michael E. Kelly of Yellville and H. David Blair of Batesville, contend that the petitions are deficient. They want the court to void the petitions and order the election commission to remove the question from the ballot.

Among other things, the lawsuit argues that the petitions didn’t have written certification by a lawyer before they were circulated as required by Arkansas law.

Marion County Attorney Samuel J. Pasthing, who represents the clerk and the commission, said his clients’ duties “are specific and distinct” in election matters.

“They are earnest, good folks, and I frankly believe that they followed the law as they calibrated it and designated it,” Pasthing said Wednesday.

But he said he cannot speak to the manner in which the petitions were collected.

The petitions were circulated by Citizens for a Dry Marion County, which wants voters to outlaw the manufacture and sale of alcohol in nine of the county’s 35 precincts. The group’s chairman, Ed Keeter of Yellville, has said members want to see how the vote goes this year before deciding whether to expand the effort to other precincts in 2012.

Marion County was dry for nearly 60 years until voters overwhelmingly approved legalizing alcohol sales four years ago.

Citizens for a Dry Marion County isn’t named as a defendant in Killian’s lawsuit.

The case was assigned to Circuit Judge Gordon Webb, but Pasthing said he expects Webb and every other judge in the 14th Judicial District to step aside from hearing the lawsuit.

Should that happen, the chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court would nominate a special judge for the case.

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