Posted on December 21, 2016
This article was published today at 5:00 a.m.
EL DORADO — Thirteenth Judicial District Circuit Judge Michael Landers has retired and Spencer Singleton of El Dorado was appointed on Tuesday by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to the 13th Judicial District, Second Division.
A large crowd gathered in the second floor courtroom of the Union County Courthouse on Tuesday to attend a reception honoring Landers for his years of service.
Landers was elected in 2004 as the Second Division Circuit Judge of the 13th Judicial District and has served two six-year terms which began Jan. 1, 2005.
He was educated in the El Dorado Public Schools and graduated from El Dorado High School. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas Law School at Fayetteville. Following completion of his active duty in the United States Army, he returned to El Dorado where he participated in the general practice of law for 33 years.
For 10 years he served as juvenile judge of Union County and has served as deputy prosecuting attorney. He is a past member of the House of Delegates of the Arkansas Bar Association and has served as Special Judge for the Union County Municipal Court.
Landers has served as a member of the board of the El Dorado Public Schools and served as its president. He also served as a
member of the board of directors of the Arkansas School Board Association.
His community involvement has included serving as chairman of the Union County Community Foundation Board, as a member of the Salvation Army board and as a director of the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce. He has also served as a member of the Community Hospice Board and the Medical Ethics Committee of the Medical Center of South Arkansas.
He is president of the board of Haiti Education Foundation, which was established by his late mother, Frances Landers of El Dorado, to provide an education to the children who reside in the southern mountains of Haiti. In 1977, Frances Landers and her late husband, Dr. Gardner Landers, heard about the desperate medical needs of the Haitian people and volunteered to help. In 1981, Frances Landers returned to El Dorado from one of her many trips to Haiti and raised enough money to build a school in Haiti. Now, there are 35 HEF schools in Haiti and the foundation director is Susan Turbeville of El Dorado.
Landers and his wife, Susan have two sons, Jason and Bryce and four grandchildren and are members of the First Presbyterian Church of El Dorado, where he has served as trustee and elder.
Singleton’s term will begin Jan. 1 and will expire on Dec. 31, 2018. The 13th Judicial District includes Union, Calhoun, Cleveland, Columbia, Dallas and Ouachita counties.
Singleton served as Career Law Clerk for United States Circuit Judge Bobby E. Shepherd of El Dorado. Prior to his time serving as law clerk for Shepherd, Singleton was Pro Se Law Clerk for the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. He also spent two years at the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit, where he served as staff attorney.
Singleton is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law and lives in El Dorado with his wife and two sons.
In July 2015, Landers and three other circuit judges, argued in a lawsuit that a state law that penalizes Arkansas circuit judges who choose to hold office past age 70 violates the state Constitution. Landers argued to overturn the 50-year-old statute. He turned 69 in June of that year.
But under a “forfeiture provision” of the judicial retirement system, for Landers to seek another six-year term, he would have to give up both the benefits he’s earned and the payments he’s made into the system during his 10 1/2 years on the 13th Judicial District bench, his attorney Gerry Schulze said in 2015.
On June 23 of this year, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the state’s judicial-retirement statutes. “Though ultimately a 5-2 decision, Landers v. Stone nevertheless comes to nearly 40 pages of heated debate due to a thorough opinion by Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson, two concurrences and two passionate dissents,” according to arkattorneys.com website.
“State judges in Arkansas who run for a term of office after they’ve reached the age of 70 must forfeit their retirement benefits from the state, a policy developed by the Legislature over half a century ago and noted in Arkansas Code sections 24-8-215(c) and 24-8-710(b). The statutes have been a source of controversy for several years.” In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued the system was unconstitutional.
Justice Paul Danielson, according to the website, said the statutes, “guarantee the departure of the most experienced and seasoned members of the Arkansas judiciary” and forces retirement “because the General Assembly believes it knows better than the voters.” He added, “I do not profess to know what happens to a society that runs off its best and brightest public servants, but it cannot be good and it certainly is not rational.” The provision was adopted in 1965, and judges have complained about the restriction for years.