A FAMILY AFFAIR: Doyle Webb s supporting a bill that could give his wife a bit of help in a race for judge in Saline County.

Since the legislature isn’t meeting today, here’s a bit of the kind of legislative trivia that gets buried in the  bigger issues: A little ol‘ bill that could help, among others, a potential political race by the wife of the chairman of the state Republican Party, Doyle Webb.

Rep. Nelda Speaks and Sen. Mark Johnson are sponsoring HB 1531. It would allow anybody who has ever served as a judge, even by appointment to serve out a term vacancy, to run up to five years after the appointment for any political office as “judge” Having the title in front of your name is presumed of incalculable political value, particularly in a judicial race where no other candidate carries the title.


Why this bill? Why now?

Johnson says this bill has no particular beneficiary, it’s just good government that he agreed to co-sponsor.  He cites his own father, a former Supreme Court justice. He preferred to be known as Justice Jim when he ran for governor. He said I was the first to suggest to him that this bill was backed by Doyle Webb, the state Republican Party chair, who might have a personal interest. A couple of others had suggested to me that was the case.


Webb’s wife, Barbara Webb, got to serve a year in 2018 as a circuit judge in Saline County until a vacancy could be filled thanks to appointment by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. She’s moved on for now to a $102,000 job as administrative law judge at the Workers Compensation Commission. Circuit judges make $163,000.

A couple of judgeships are on the ballot in the Webbs’ home of Saline County next year. The thinking is that Barbara Webb will be a candidate for one of them. This bill, it so happens, would allow her, on the strength of a year as a judge in 2018, to run as a “judge” should she make a race.


Reliable sources say Webb (Doyle) has been lobbying for the legislation. He’s reportedly saying it would contribute to his agenda to put more conservatives (meaning Republicans) on the bench. Judgeships are nominally non-partisan. Note that the bill changes a law that applied only to judicial office to allow the title in any race.

Judges Grisham Phillips and Gary Arnold are retiring, so their Saline seats are wide open in 2020. At least four other names are circulating as potential candidates. Things could get interesting if Webb runs a contested race. Her record for her year in office will be an issue. Better still is a report that as a young law student in the 1980s she demonstrated Democratic tendencies in some public activities then. In Republican Arkansas today, that’s almost akin to a Virginia Democrat turning up in blackface in a yearbook photo.

I”ve sent questions to both Barbara and Doyle Webb about the legislation. No response so far.

The bill’s about someone. Just as another bill that makes a  change in the legislation that essentially forces judicial retirements by Rep. David Hillman (R-Almyra) undoubtedly has someone in mind. He hasn’t returned my messages either. As it stands, ify ou turn 70 during a term you forfeit retirement if you run again. Hillman’s bill would allow someone to retain retirement as long as they hadn’t turned 70 ON THE DAY THEY WERE ELECTED, meaning in the last year of a term. This would have the effect of protecting retirement benefits and allow continued work up to almost 76 for, say, a circuit judge who turned 70 in the final year of a six-year term. The legislature has resisted — and the Supreme Court has rejected legal challenges to — changes in the retirement rule.


PS: Now comes another whisper: The plan is to run Barbara Webb for Supreme Court is how this version goes. Yikes.