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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Circuit judge sets timeline for court in contempt proceedings involving two Fort Smith women

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

A pre-trial hearing was held Monday, October 24, 2022 in courtroom 203 of the Fort Smith Circuit Court in a lingering libel/slander lawsuit initially filed by the controversial founder/president of local non-profit Pay it Forward Fort Smith (PIFFS) against former board member Susanna Sisson.

At the recent pre-trial hearing Judge Diana Ladd granted both parties 60 days to prepare for trial. She also warned both Sisson and Lackey that any further incidences breaking the initial Agreed Order would result in 30 days in jail.

When asked, Sisson agreed. The judge then asked Lackey if she agreed, and when she hesitated, Lackey was admonished and asked by Ladd if she understood the warning that any further posts or harassment would result in 30 days in the Sebastian County Detention Center.

"You both have violated the original court order, and this needs to stop," said Judge Ladd. "It's childish and there is no reason for this to be an ongoing issue."

"If I see one instance of either of you violating the original court order between now and the trial date I will have you arrested and you will do thirty days in the county jail. " Judge Ladd said from the bench.

The case will likely go to court in early 2023.

Judge Ladd issued and signed an Agreed Order between Darla Lackey/Pay it Forward Fort Smith and Susanna Sisson after the case was dismissed with prejudice in late June of 2021.

The agreement enjoined either party from "making, issuing or otherwise publishing any statements or disparaging remarks" toward the other party and specifically addressed "social media 0r online posts".

You can read the entire Agreed Order by clicking this file:

Agreed Order (1)
Download PDF • 566KB

The initial lawsuit was the result of a complaint made by Sisson and three other board members in January 2020 to Fort Smith Police Department and Sebastian County Prosecutor Daniel Shue which alleged misuse of non-profit funds and other improprieties.

The letter, which was signed by all four board members, claimed that Lackey had asked the board in a "group chat" if she could "borrow" funds from a $2000 Flood Recovery Grant awarded by the Arkansas Humgry Relief Alliance (AHRA).

Lackey stated she needed the funds to facilitate a move after she and another board member, Craig Wootton (who at the time was listed as Vice President of PIFFS and is also Ms. Lackey's significant other) were evicted from a rental on May Avenue.

Wootton is further listed as co-owner, with Lackey, of Fort Smith Handyman which was recently fined $4400 for operating a contractor business without a license.

The "micro" grant which PIFFS received was part of a $200,000 grant awarded to ARHA from AT&T Philanthropy in 2019.

According to the complete police report, the missing funds were listed as $515 to Lackey's landlord, $41.97 to a gaming site, and $863.97 which was unaccounted for at the time of the police interview.

Lackey, and a former board member, Tammy McCullough (aka Tammy Benton), told Detective Kevin Bolin the board had allowed Lackey to take the money as a loan, but he did not speak to the other three directors who had signed the letter of complaint in order to verify that information.

The prosecutor then deferred the matter to the Arkansas Attorney General.

Lackey, who has a record of litigious actions involving civil suits over the past few years, initiated the lawsuit against Sisson in April of2021 alleging slander, libel and defamation. It is unclear why the other three board members were not included in the lawsuit. In June 2021, the lawsuit was dismissed by Judge Diana Ladd with prejudice, and both parties signed the order agreeing to refrain from posting about the other on social media. On August 3, 2021, less than 24 hours after being notified of the Agreed Order, several Facebook posts appeared on Lackey's personal profile page, Pay it Forward Fort Smith business page, and an affiliated group page called Pay it Forward Fort Smith.

The "public media announcement" claimed Lackey had won the lawsuit. Despite having herself broken the Agreed Order, within days Lackey contacted the Circuit Court to make claims that Sisson had violated the Agreed Order and was in contempt of court.

During the ensuing months, Lackey and Wootton made several libelous posts about Sisson. In April 2022, according to Arkansas Court Connect, Lackey retained a new lawyer in northwest Arkansas, Rebecca Bryson, to reopen the case and a file a brief for contempt by Sisson for allegedly responding to Lackey's tirades on Facebook.

Subsequently, on May 5, 2022, attorney Sam " Chip" Sexton responded to Lackey's action filed a countersuit and extensive discovery requests. . Lackey then requested and was granted 45 days to respond to the countersuit and discovery.

You can read our original story on the lawsuit and dismissal by clicking here.

You can read our original background story on Lackey and Pay it Forward by clicking here.

You can read our stories on the non-profit being evicted from its building on North 10th Street earlier in the by clicking here and here.

You can read about Lackey losing an auto tort lawsuit in Sebastian County District Court last week by clicking here.

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