By Dennis McCaslin
An ongoing legal battle in Sebastian County Circuit Court took yet another turn Thursday morning when the court clerk posted a new order in a contempt case involving two Fort Smith women.
Darla Lackey and Pay it Forward Fort Smith, a now nearly defunct non-profit organization, originally filed a slander and defamation lawsuit against Susanna Sisson back on January 22. 2021. That case was thrown out of court on June 22 of the same year because of an agreed court order between the two parties.
The judge dismissed the Case with prejudice, which essentially enjoined either party from reopening the original case.
Lackey, who contended on social media that she won the lawsuit and even posted an altered version of the court order in order to justify her comments, violated the spirit of the injunction by the judge within 24 hours of it being issued.
Although neither party was able to bring legal action against the other concerning the original claim of defamation or slander under that order, Lackey sought to reopen the case on September 2, 2021 by making claims that Sisson had committed contempt. Subsequent filings by Sissons' attorney resulted in a counterclaim by the defendant in which she furnished numerous examples of contempt made by Lackey on social media.
The legal proceedings remained dormant in the case until May 12, 2022 when Lackey and her new attorney filed a verified motion for contempt and request for relief to the court. After a summons was issued for Sisson following that action, her attorney submitted a request for admissions of fact to Lackey's legal team.
Sisson's attorney, Sam "Chip" Sexton of Fort Smith, filed a motion to compel and a counterclaim on July 5 2022 and on August 2 2022 Lackey sought an extension to respond to the discovery through her new attorney, Rebecca Bryson of Bentonville..
The original scheduling conference in the case was set for August 17, 2022 and another extension was granted at that time because Sexton was in the hospital. At that time the next hearing in the case was set for October 24, 2022.
On October 20th, 2022 Lackey through her attorney filed a notice of non-compliance with court order, once again claiming that Sisson had committed contempt of court because of social media statements concerning the case.
During this time both parties were admonished to not say anything about each other on social media. Lackey, once again, violated that court order a number of times.
A trial date of February 27, 2023 with set at that time and Lackey's attorney filed a motion to withdrawal as counsel on January 6th 2023. The court granted that order 14 days later.
Two days later, Lackey posted on social media that she had to let her attorney go because she was incompetent and "emotional".
Having painted herself into a legal corner, Lackey also sent a handwritten motion to dismiss the contempt allegations against Sisson to the court on February 2. Sisson's attorney said at that time he would not drop the countersuit in the case.
That, in effect, compelled both parties to return to court on February 27.
On February 27th, all parties convened back in court and Lackey showed up without an attorney. When questioned about her lack of an attorney, Lackey claimed that her attorney had "withdrawn" and she couldn't afford to pay another attorney. She also claimed "ignorance of the law" in all matters concerning the proceedings.
At that time, the bench gifted Lackey with yet another extension with the caveat she would find another attorney within the 10 days allowed by law. Lackey vowed that day to hiring an attorney and letting the court know within 24 hours by having that new attorney enter an appearance with the court.
As this writing there is still no new attorney of record for Lackey and/or Pay it Foward.
Despite insistence at an earlier hearing if the matter came back to the court both women might face contempt charges the judge allowed Lackey another 90-day extension in the case. The judge had told both parties at a previous hearing that contempt had already been established, and she was granting the original extension in order for the parties to settle the matter out of court.
Sexton filed a request to comply during the February 27th court hearing because none of the discovery and interrogatories had ever been answered in the contempt case. The judge ordered Lackey or her attorney to respond within 10 days and on Wednesday Lackey filed a response pro se with the court.
In that rambling and somewhat incoherent response to the court, Lackey admitted to a number of the counterclaims by Sisson's attorney although she attempted to explain away her actions and sought to redress many of the issues from the original slander/defamation lawsuit.
In one example, Lackey admitted to a posting of one of the exhibits used in the counterclaim and in the same sentence denied in part claiming she was given misunderstood information that the information she posted violating the court order was public information.
In another answer to a request for admissions, Lackey admitted in part and denied in part because she claims she's been "diognosed" (sic) with PTSD and bipolar disorder and was under "tremendous amount of harassment that coupled with a PTSD flair to place her under duress and temporary insanity".
So, in essence, Lackey admitted to committing contempt against the court but tried to deflect it by claiming ignorance of the law and claiming temporary insanity.
As it stands today, the bench trial on the contempt charges against both parties has been set for May 26 at 10:00 a.m. in front of Judge Diana Ladd in Courtroom 202 of the Sebastian County Circuit Court.