As hinted previously, Circuit Judge Dan Kemp of Mountain View will challenge Justice Courtney Goodson for the open position of chief justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court.

That his website is gone live is an indication that he will, or maybe already has, filed today for the seat. It’s being filled by appointment currently after the retirement of Chief Justice Jim Hannah. The appointee, UA law professor Howard Brill, cannot run for the seat.


Kemp’s watchwords on the webpage might be a guide of where the race will head. Goodson survived, but was tarred, by an ethics investigation that suggested she and some other justices delayed ruling on the same-sex marriage challenge to avoid having to declare on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled. She also drew attention for a mountain of expensive gifts given to her by her current husband, John Goodson. John Goodson, a lawyer and UA trustee, brings his own questions to the race because of his heavy engagement in politics, including by legal colleagues who’ve contributed heavily to other justices on the court. The Goodsons also enjoyed an Italian vacation on a Tyson Foods yacht courtesy of a legal friend who does work for the Tysons.

As I’ve written, based on information from multiple sources, Goodson controlled the same-sex marriage case, drawing the majority opinion after a conference of justices decided to overturn the state ban. But she never released her opinion, membership on the court changed and, finally, no opinion was issued at all. My sources told me Goodson had an opinion prepared to UPHOLD the ban in the event the U.S. Supreme Court did not overturn such state bans.


Goodson retains her current seat on the court regardless of the outcome of this race. Since her entry in politics — which took her from an appellate court clerkship with scant legal experience to the Supreme Court — many have speculated she’s interested in higher elective office, including governor.

Goodson is expected to be well-funded thanks to her own wealth and wealthy supporters. She enjoys some support among the trial lawyers because of Goodson’s own experience, though the plaintiffs’ lawyers are sharply divided. I’d expect some business support for Kemp, though Goodson, particularly through her husband, has developed some support among chamber of commerce ranks, too. Kemp;s record is primarily as a criminal court judge, so he doesn’t bring a past on business-important civil issues to the race. His criminal record will be mined by dark money groups, undoubtedly, for the type of advertising used to defeat Tim Cullen in his race two years ago against Justice Robin Wynne. Before it’s over, dark money may appear on both sides in this race.


UPDATE: Following is Kemp’s announcement news release:

On Friday, Judge Dan Kemp announced his candidacy and filed for Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Judge Kemp began his campaign by outlining his approach to his judicial philosophy, “I pray each morning before I start court that I will be fair and impartial and to decide each case according to the facts, the law, and the rules of evidence and rules of procedure.”

Judge Kemp continued, “We are at a critical point in our Arkansas judiciary. Over the past five years, there have been newspaper headlines, editorials and political commentaries that rightly question the impartiality of our judiciary. Our values in Arkansas are being undermined both behind the scenes and in broad daylight.”

“It is time we followed the United States Supreme Court directive and make a clear set of rules and conditions governing whether a biased judge must recuse in a case. There should never be another situation like the Maggio case in Arkansas – each time that happens, our judiciary suffers incalculable loss of confidence in the public eye.”

In response to the much-publicized jail-overcrowding crisis in Arkansas, Judge Kemp spoke of his 29-year experience as criminal court judge and promised greater use of Drug Courts and Veterans Treatment Courts to address the core problems leading to prison overcrowding.

“I serve as a criminal court judge and have sentenced thousands of guilty criminals to jail and prison because I firmly believe criminals owe and should repay their debt to both society and to their innocent victims,” he stated.

“I have been a Drug Court Judge for the past 12 years, and I believe it is important for our judiciary to offer creative solutions to habitual problems instead of packing our jails and letting violent criminals out early because of overcrowding,” said Judge Kemp.

Judge Kemp cautions each Drug Court participant that he will be assessing their character and honesty.

“To me, character means you are honest with everyone you deal with, starting with yourself. You need to be honest, you need to show up, and you need to work hard. I don’t ask anymore out of a drug court participant than I ask of myself,” he said.

In addition to the prison overcrowding crisis, Judge Kemp also believes it is important to address the severe shortage of public defenders so that adequate time is spent assessing each case, thereby giving the justice system more options including probation, drug court or veterans courts.

“As Chief Justice, my plan is to be a strong voice in support of our Constitution’s Sixth Amendment declaration that a criminally accused has a meaningful right to counsel. Our Arkansas public defenders are vastly overworked and understaffed. As Chief Justice, I will address this very serious problem head on with the help of the Arkansas Bar Association, our legislature, our governor and other judges and justices,” he announced.

The nonpartisan judicial election coincides with the presidential primary and will take place on March 1, 2016. Only one other candidate has announced for the position.

“Finally, I will champion the adoption of a strict new set of ethics rules that prohibit all judges from accepting any personal gifts, period. No personal gifts, no headlines,” Judge Kemp concluded.

Judge Kemp and Susan, his wife of forty-two years, reside in Mountain View. They attend the School Avenue Church of Christ where he serves as an elder. The Kemps have two daughters: Lauren Kemp of Portland, Oregon, and Erin Brogdon of North Little Rock. Erin and her husband, Jay, are the parents of the Kemps’ two grandsons, James Hoover and John Hutson.