Circuit Judge Dan Kemp’s campaign issued a response yesterday to the judicial discipline complaint made by Blue Hog Report blogger Matt Campbell. Kemp is running for chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court:
We are five days from Election Day and Arkansans are already casting their ballots for Judge Kemp. Sadly, this is just a cheap political stunt propped up by supporters of our opponent to try and alter our growing momentum as a campaign. We have great trust that voters will see this desperate attack for what it is. The facts are simple, Judge Kemp is not involved in the fundraising aspects of this campaign. Furthermore, the plea agreement in question was negotiated and agreed to by the prosecutor, not the judge, back in 2014 – practically a year prior to the Judge’s decision to run in this race. Simply put, any attempt to prove an inkling of wrongdoing on behalf of Judge Kemp in this matter is futile, because it just isn’t true.
The crux of Campbell’s complaint is that Kemp, in a criminal drug-related case last year involving Lea Ann Finn, the daughter of a longtime friend of his, approved a guilty plea in exchange for dismissal of felony charges against Finn. Soon thereafter, Finn’s parents each donated $2,500 to Kemp’s campaign. Campbell states that this at least gives the “appearance of impropriety regarding the timing of the contributions.” In a follow up post, he said Finn had had multiple prior DWI and drug-related convictions, contrary to an earlier statement from Kemp’s campaign.
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Campbell’s posts (here and here) have sparked ample discussion from the state’s legal community, in large part because this race is so politically and emotionally charged. Several have pointed out that the prosecutor in the case would have been responsible for negotiating the plea deal, as Kemp’s statement above states.
To that end, here’s a statement from the prosecutor in the Lea Ann Finn case, Drew Smith, provided by Kemp campaign manager Erin Brogdon (who is also his daughter):
“At the time of the defendant’s arrest and during the negotiation of the plea agreement she had no felony history. NCIC, the system our office relies on for criminal history, showed no prior felony convictions. As is customary, it is the prosecutor’s responsibility to consider and negotiate plea deals, not the judge. This plea was negotiated one year prior to Judge Kemp running for Chief Justice.”
–Drew Smith prosecutor in the 16th Judicial District
In Campbell’s most recent post, he says the fact that the prosecutor is responsible for negotiating a plea wouldn’t have absolved Kemp of these allegations of impropriety.
Kemp’s opponent in the chief justice race is Associate Justice Courtney Goodson.