The Arkansas Bar Association is meeting in Hot Springs and the gathering has stirred the rumor mill about the nomination for a federal eastern district judgeship to succeed Leon Holmes, who took senior status in March. Put short odds on Circuit Judge Troy Braswell of Conway, multiple sources tell me.

A delay in the nomination is likely due to the fact that an early favorite, Chad Pekron of Little Rock (he’s a Republican regular and member of the state Election Commission) fell by the wayside.


Enter Braswell, only 38, and a former deputy prosecutor in Faulkner County.  He’s been getting some attention in the press of late for work with juvenile offenders. He handles juvenile cases and is serving on a state juvenile justice reform board. He’s a UCA and UA-Little Rock Law graduate. He was elected in 2014 to fill a seat vacated by Mike Maggio, who hoped to run for Court of Appeals but instead wound up in federal prison.

The Maggio matter has something of a shared connection to Braswell. In 2014, Maggio went down for lowering a big nursing home damage verdict shortly after nursing home magnate Michael Morton poured a ton of money into Maggio’s campaigns. Maggio reduced the liability of a home owned by Morton from $5.2 to $1 million. Maggio pleaded guilty to bribery, though he tried to take it back. Morton and Gilbert Baker, the former Republican senator from Conway who helped arrange the contributions, have not been accused of a crime.


Perhaps because of the Baker hometown connection, Morton and other nursing home interests poured money into a slate of judicial candidates from Faulkner County in 2014. Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood scored around $75,000, about half her total take; Doralee Chandler, an unsuccessful candidate for circuit judge got around $26,000, or three-quarters of her initial fund-raising; incumbent Circuit Judge David Clark got $20,000; Braswell got a relatively paltry $8,000 of the $66,000 or so he reported raising from Morton. Save Clark, all these candidates followed a template of campaigning hard at Republican meetings. State judges run as non-partisan candidates, but in red Arkansas it’s considered politically wise to brand yourself accordingly. Of course Donald Trump won’t be nominating a Democrat to the federal bench.

I had thought Justice Wood might be a good pick for the seat, given the lack of women among Trump nominees. I mentioned that when I asked if she’d heard about developments. She responded:


I was very honored to be under consideration, but I notified our Senators that I believe that at the present time it is better for Arkansas for me to continuing serving on the Arkansas Supreme Court. I certainly could not speculate who the White House might be considering.