JUSTICE JO HART: Will she run again?

JUSTICE JO HART: Will she run again?

Amid a host of races for circuit court judgeships in 2020 owing to retirements, there’s been little talk to date of another judgeship on the ballot in 2020 — Josephine Linker Hart’s seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Hart is 75. Under Arkansas law, if she runs again, she’ll be ineligible for future retirement benefits. That would be a sacrifice. After 20 years on the bench, Hart would be entitled to roughly $112,000 a year in retirement pay based on current salary. Justices currently make about $175,000, but recently asked for a $10,000 pay raise, a request now pending before the independent citizens commission that sets elected official pay.

I’ve sent Hart an e-mail asking her plans. There’s been speculation that she’s delaying an announcement to help a potential candidate who’d be prepared to enter the race at a late date. The chance of Hart seeking re-election discourages other candidates, given the advantages incumbents enjoy.

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Hart has tended to be an independent voice on the court with occasional sympathy for injured plaintiffs and criminal defendants, positions not particularly in vogue these days. On the down side, she’s among several beneficiaries on the court of generous campaign contributions from nursing home magnate Michael Morton. He paid off $23,000 of her Supreme Court campaign debt with contributions and she thanked him at her Supreme Court investiture for his help.

Morton is a figure in the public corruption investigation of recent years thanks to Mike Maggio’s guilty plea to lowering a verdict against a Morton nursing home after Morton arranged campaign contributions to his campaign. Morton hasn’t been charged with a crime.

But back to 2020. Filing for judicial office begins barely five months from now, in November. The election is in March. It is not too soon to be making campaign plans, particularly for a Supreme Court race. They’ve been expensive in recent times with dark money pouring into contested races.

A number of candidates for judgeships have already established campaign committees and begun political efforts.

Here’s a shivering idle thought: Hart is close to Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose family helped Hart in earlier races for court of appeals. Rutledge once served as her law clerk. What if speculation is true, that Hart is planning a late departure to clear the way for a friend to make a late entry into a Supreme Court race? And what if …..

Just holiday weekend daydreaming, nightmare variety.

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