Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen Commands Federal Prosecutors to Explain Failure to Pay Sanctions

The sale of the USA Drug pharmacy chain and the subsequent death of its founder, Stephen L. LaFrance Sr., make the 4-year-old criminal case against its former marketing VP, Garret Sorensen, seem like so much ancient history.

Oh, probably not for Sorensen, who will remain a guest of the Federal Bureau of Prisons until next September, or for his family.

And neither has it been forgotten by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who imposed sanctions on the federal prosecutors in the case and ordered the government to pay $12,700 to the attorneys who represented Sorensen and his wife and sister-in-law, who were originally charged with him.

Why did a state court judge order sanctions against federal prosecutors who succeeded in getting Sorensen to plead guilty to a federal crime? Because he found that the prosecutors had improperly moved a related civil case out of state court and into federal court.

U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson also sanctioned the prosecutors for the same reason in late 2011, but he eventually vacated his contempt finding.

Griffen is not so forgiving.

In an order he filed on Oct. 3, Griffen said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Little Rock had filed over the summer an “agreed order of dismissal” in hopes that Griffen would sign it, dispensing with the case, and the sanctions, for good.

“Nowhere does the proposed order recite or otherwise report that the attorney’s fees assessed by the Court against Intervenor United States of America have been paid,” Griffen wrote.

Therefore, Griffen has scheduled a hearing at which the U.S. Attorney’s Office is to either prove that it has paid the fees, prove that an appeals court has overturned the order or “show cause why the Intervenor should not be found in contempt of court.”

In its response, the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed that the fees had not been paid, that the order had not been overturned and that “[t]he United States will be present at the hearing on November 1, 2013.”

The attorneys’ fees Griffen ordered were $4,170 to Garret Sorensen’s lawyer, Pat James; $5,240 to wife Katherine Sorensen’s attorney, Erin Cassinelli; and $3,292 to sister-in-law Shannon Walters’ attorney, Chuck Banks.