AFTER HEARING: Gilbert Baker meets reporters. KARK

Former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker, accused of conspiring to bribe then-Judge Mike Maggio to lower a jury verdict in a nursing home negligence case, pleaded not guilty in federal court today and was allowed to remain free pending trial.

A trial date was tentatively set in February, but it likely will be delayed.

Magistrate Patricia Harris
set several conditions on Baker’s release, including that he not consume alcohol or narcotics, submit to drug testing and participate in a substance abuse therapy program if directed by the parole office. Baker tested positive for meth in a DWI arrest in Faulkner County in 2016.

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A Democrat-Gazette account of the hearing said the U.S. attorney’s office objected to an earlier order providing Baker with a court-appointed attorney because of his financial circumstances. Harris said the issue could be revisited when the case moves to Judge Price Marshall’s supervision. A financial report on Baker was filed under seal.

Baker spoke briefly with reporters outside court. According to Andrew DeMillo of the Associated Press he said he and Maggio discussed the jury award before it was lowered, but denied any connection to campaign contributions. Quote from the AP

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“It never crossed my mind to influence a decision, I was never asked to influence a decision. No one ever indicated in any way they were being influenced by any of my fundraising activities.”

Baker is a tenured music faculty member at UCA. He was seen greeting those who attended an announcement on campus this week of a $20 million gift to build a center for fine and performing arts.