The latest from the Blue Hog Report on Circuit Judge Dan Kemp, who is running for chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court against Associate Justice Courtney Goodson: According to Sheffield Nelson — a laywer, businessman and longtime political figure — Kemp called Jim Hinkle, a longtime friend and major player in Stone County, and asked him for a campaign contribution shortly after Kemp’s handling of a criminal case involving Hinkle’s daughter last year.
When the case came before Kemp (Blue Hog blogger Matt Campbell, an attorney, argues that Kemp should have recused), Kemp accepted a plea deal favorable to Hinkle’s daughter.
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Then he made a phone call to Hinkle that arguably sounds like a shakedown. Or at least that’s what happened according to Nelson. If you’re scoring at home — what follows is all hearsay and, though not acknowledged by Campbell, it’s worth noting that Nelson is a Goodson supporter and has raised money for her campaign.
Nelson offers the secondhand account to Campbell:
I got a phone call from a good friend of mine, Jim Hinkle, and his first words were, “You’re not gonna believe what just happened. The judge called me a few minutes ago and told me that he had wound up my daughter’s case that morning, that we should be happy with it, and that he wanted to now get with [Hinkle] to talk about what [Hinkle] was going to do in [Kemp’s] campaign. Kemp said he needed some money and needed [Hinkle] to raise him some money and do some work in his campaign.”
Hinkle was shocked, according to Nelson:
In fact, when he called me, he was dismayed. He could not believe that Judge Kemp had personally called him. And this call was just shortly after court had ended, so that means the Judge’s call to Hinkle and Hinkle’s call to me all took place in about a fifteen-minute span. … More or less immediately after he got out of court.
Nelson said that he told Hinkle to keep his distance:
I said, “Well, Jim, let me tell you something. You’re a good friend, and I don’t want to see you get embarrassed. The judge could get in very serious trouble; you could get embarrassed, and I’d hate to see that.” But I said, “You should not in any way go to work in his campaign or give him money because it would have a strange appearance this soon after your daughter’s case was handled like that. I would be reluctant to do it.” … I said, “I’m telling you, this is not a case where you need to get involved with that guy. Not now.” I said, “He’s the one who created a problem and brought it up–he’s the one who breached the ethical boundaries–but it is just not something that I would think of doing.”
Nelson was clear that, according to Hinkle, Kemp asked him for money: “[Hinkle] said, ‘The judge said I want you get involved in my campaign: I want you to give me some money, I want you to raise me some money, and I want you to be to tally involved in my campaign.’ ”
Based on Nelson’s secondhand recount, it doesn’t sound like there was a clear request for a quid pro quo, but if this version of events is correct, it could not possibly look ethically fishier. A judge gives relatively favorable treatment in a criminal case, then calls the defendant’s father for a campaign contribution? Yikes.
That said, this is all hearsay at this point. We’ve got a call and an email in to Hinkle to get his version of events and will update if we hear back.
Campbell yesterday made a complaint to the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission about Kemp’s handling of Hinkle’s daughter’s case, and his campaign’s recent statements regarding that case.