ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, ERICA ENEKS, AND TONY HUFFMAN APPELLANT
TEGAN DOWDY AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEE
FROM THE CRAWFORD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 17JV-2015-287]
HONORABLE MICHAEL MEDLOCK, JUDGE
Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellant.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor children.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brad Newman, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for Michael Medlock.
JOSEPHINE LINKER HART, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE
Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) appeals from the
Crawford County Circuit Court's April 5, 2017 orders
holding Tony Huffman, a DHS attorney, and Erika Eneks, a
caseworker for the Crawford County DHS Office, in contempt.
the relevant facts are not in dispute. This appeal arises out
of a dependency-neglect case initiated in 2015 when DHS took
custody of Tegan Dowdy's children. According to
representations by the children's attorney ad litem, she
filed a motion to have the children placed in their
grandparents' home in the fall of 2016. The issue of the
children's placement was taken up by the circuit court on
November 3, 2016, at a permanency-planning
hearing. According to the ad litem's
representations, DHS objected at the permanency-planning
hearing to the placement of the children with the
grandparents because the grandfather is a registered sex
offender, and it is DHS's policy to always object to such
a placement. The circuit court, after considering all the
evidence presented at the hearing, nonetheless elected to
place the children with their grandparents, reflecting its
decision in an order that, according to the ad litem, was
entered on November 21, 2016.
than ninety days later, DHS filed a motion for change of
custody, citing the fact that the grandfather is a registered
sex offender as the basis for change of custody. The circuit
court took up DHS's motion for change of custody at a
hearing on March 2, 2017. At the hearing, the attorney ad
litem and the attorney for the grandparents argued that the
motion for change of custody was baseless because there were
no new facts since the November 3, 2016 hearing; therefore,
res judicata applied. DHS argued that the grandfather's
sex-offender status had not actually been addressed at the
November 3, 2016 hearing. The attorney ad litem argued that
the change-of-custody hearing should be continued so that the
parties could obtain the transcripts from the November 3,
and more important to the issue presently before this court,
at the March 2, 2017 hearing, the attorney ad litem took
serious exception to the fact that Erica Eneks, the
caseworker who had testified at every prior hearing in this
case and who had been in the courtroom all day, Eneks had
gotten up and left the courthouse right before the
change-of-custody hearing began. Instead of the caseworker,
DHS wanted Lisa Jenson, who is the area director for DHS and
who was not previously involved in the Dowdy case, to testify
as DHS's designated representative for the proceeding
that day. After the ad litem raised the issue of Eneks's
absence, the circuit court posited that DHS's attorney,
Tony Huffman, had told Ms. Eneks to leave. Huffman responded
that he "certainly wouldn't deny it." The
circuit court further inquired as to why Huffman had told
Eneks to leave, as set forth below.
The Court: Where is Ms. Eneks, Mr. Huffman?
Mr. Huffman: I don't know, your Honor.
Mr. Huffman: I don't believe you. I
believe you told her to leave. Did you tell her to leave?
Mr. Huffman: I told her to go get [inaudible].
The Court: You told her to leave because you thought
she'd be a witness in this case, didn't you?
Mr. Huffman: I thought it was possible they would try to.
The Court: And anything she might say would probably be
contrary to what you're urging me to do, wouldn't it?
Mr. Huffman: I didn't want her put on the spot by anybody
if she wasn't subpoenaed.
circuit court then continued the change-of-custody hearing
for a later date so that the transcripts from the November 3,
2016 hearing could be obtained. The circuit court also set a
show-cause hearing for March 16, 2017, to address whether
Huffman and Eneks should be held in contempt for hindering or
interfering with the circuit court's proceedings in this
show-cause hearing, the circuit court entered two court
exhibits: (1) the transcript from the March 2, 2017 hearing,
and (2) the courthouse security footage from March 2, 2017.
The circuit court observed that the footage showed Huffman
signaling a "non-verbal cue" to Eneks shortly
before the Dowdy hearing, Eneks then leaving the courtroom
and driving away from the courthouse, and Eneks ...