The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote extensively this morning, as we had earlier, on the anti-gay background of Circuit Judge Shawn Womack, appointed yesterday by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to decide the perhaps critical question of which members of the Arkansas Supreme Court should rule on the lawsuit challenging the state ban on same-sex marriage.
It gave no similar attention to an even more glaring appearance of conflict.
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Hutchinson named to make this decision Betty Dickey, a recent political supporter of not only a party in the case but THE instigator of the case — Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
It’s real simple. You can see Dickey’s endorsement of Rutledge last November above.
The case Dickey was appointed to hear grew out of Rutledge’s motion aimed at new oral arguments in the same-sex marriage case and also aimed at having newly elected justices hear the case, particularly Republican-friendly Justice Rhonda Wood in place of a gubernatorial appointed special justice, Robert McCorkindale. Four members of the Supreme Court ordered that a separate case be made of who should decided the case. Wood and two justices who saw the move as an unethical delaying tactic recused and that gave the governor three seats to fill.
The Democrat-Gazette quoted plaintiffs’ attorney Cheryl Maples about the appointment of anti-gay Womack (as a legislator he pushed legislation rested on the foundation of prohibition of same-sex marriage):
“The rules of governing judicial conduct require that there not be any perception of a conflict of interest [for a judge],” she said. “[Womack’s] history of taking a place adverse to any one party in this action would definitely be a perceived conflict of interest if not an absolute conflict of interest.”
From where I sit, Dickey’s appearance of conflict — as a devoted supporter of one party — seems even more blatant.
I asked the governor’s office for comment on this twice yesterday. I received no response.
PS — Multiple contacts in Searcy tell me that the low-profile Searcy lawyer appointed to the Supreme Court for this case by Hutchinson, Brett Watson, has solid Republican credentials as well. He has not , however, run for office as a Republican as Womack, Dickey, Rutledge and Hutchinson have. Justice Wood runs for a non-partisan seat but she’s relied on former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee, a gay marriage foe, as a campaigner in her races.
PPS — In looking up some background for this item, I noted an Oct. 23, 2014 report that the Supreme Court had “expedited” the appeal of the marriage case, decided in May 2014. Justice delayed ….