Eureka Springs and Berryville, both towns in Carroll County, Arkansas, are just eight miles apart, separated by the valley of the Kings River. The Arkansas legislature in 1883 created a judicial district for the county west of the Kings River and the another judicial district on the east side of the river.
But in 2010, for reasons not explained in the Arkansas Supreme Court’s opinion, Parker v. Crow, Eastern District Judge Gerald Crow ruled that henceforth there would be only one judicial district in Carroll County.
Eureka Springs, west of the Kings River, is a tourist town and art colony, known for its Victorian architecture, with bathhouses, galleries and restaurants in a setting of steep hills and narrow streets, all maintained with strict building controls.
Berryville sits on a stretch of prairie east of the Kings River, surrounding by rolling hills and cattle and poultry farms. A Tysons poultry processing plant and a Walmart Supercenter are among the town’s largest employers.
In 1869, as northern Arkansas began to recover from the ravages of the Civil War, Boone County was created from the eastern portion of Carroll County, with Harrison as the county seat. Carrollton, a settlement 20 miles southeast of Berryville, was no longer at the center of Carroll County, and Berryville’s boosters succeeded in having the county seat established in Berryville in 1875.
In 1883, the Eureka Springs Railway was extended south from Missouri, and Eureka Springs quickly blossomed into a small city of hotels (quaint and magnificent) and bathhouses, fed by the waters of dozens of springs. The same year, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Act 74, creating two judicial districts for Carroll County.
Judge Crow’s bold attempt to merge the two districts probably left the Arkansas Supreme Court dumbfounded, but the opinion restoring the two districts simply cites some basic principles of American government to indicate the degree that Judge Crow’s opinion was off-base.
Judge Crow’s first contention was that the 1883 act of the legislature creating the two districts was unconstitutional because it attempted to create a new county, even though the language of the statute specified that the districts were to keep separate records as though they were in different counties, but that Carroll County should in all other respects “be one entire and undivided county.”
Judge Crow also determined that at 1997 legislative act, among other laws, repealed the 1883 act by implication. The Arkansas Supreme Court recited the rule that repeal by implication “is never allowed except where there is such an invincible repugnancy” that the old and new laws “cannot both stand together.” The 1997 law, and the others, may be messy and partially inconsistent, but they did not specifically repeal the 1883 act.
Almost as an afterthought, the Arkansas Supreme Court examined the Arkansas constitution, noting that the power to establish or dissolve judicial districts was a legislative power, not something that a judge could do. Quashing Judge Crow’s attempt to merge the two judicial districts, the Supreme Court said that his order “shows a plain, manifest, clear and gross abuse of discretion.”