We knew that George Soros was backing Alicia Walton for Pulaski prosecuting attorney through an independent expenditure committee as part of a national effort to elect “reform” prosecutors.
Now we learn some nasty people are returning fire on behalf of her opponent, Will Jones. But this is different:
Will Jones posted on Facebook yesterday a repudiation of mailers being sent by a dark money group to attack his opponent. At least Soros’ contribution to the Arkansas Justice and Public Safety PAC to attack Jones is on the record. Not so for the group going after Walton.
Something called Fair Courts America has put out some nasty mailers against Alicia Walton. One says she was at the helm of plea deals for a variety of dangerous criminals. Yes, she’s a public defender. Yes, the Constitution provides for defense for the accused, some of whom are innocent. Yes, plea deals mean guilty pleas. Yes, plea deals require the approval of prosecutors and judges. Welcome to the justice system. The flyers also knock her for some perfectly good ideas — such as bail reform.
Jones’ own mailers have been positive, stressing his experience as a prosecutor. And to his credit, he’s done what few candidates helped by dark money ads have done by repudiating the dark-money attacks on Walton. He posted on Facebook yesterday:
This mailer is not from our campaign. I have great respect for defense attorneys and consider many of them personal friends. We’re fortunate to have a lot of support from the defense community. We need vigorous prosecution and defense for the scales of justice to balance. If a mailer does not say “Paid for by Will Jones for Prosecuting Attorney” it is not us. We will continue to campaign in a clean manner and always conduct ourselves with grace.
So who is Fair Courts America? They didn’t file as an independent committee until May 17, too late to be required to disclose their financing just yet. Their papers were handled by Gary Liles and the confirmation letter went to Martha Jett McAllister, both lawyers in a Little Rock law firm. Who were they acting for? Well, the papers show an agent of the organization to be Sherry Gaskill of Illinois.
Who’s she? Here’s a clue, an article earlier this year about how Fair Courts America spent $250,000 in support of a candidate for a Wisconsin Court of Appeals seat who defeated an appointee of the Democratic governor:
The treasurer of Fair Courts America, Sherry Gaskill, and the group’s address were the same as the treasurer and address listed for Restoration PAC, a SuperPAC almost solely funded since 2016 by billionaire conservative Richard Uihlein. [Its address is the same one, in Downers Grove, Ill., used by Gaskill in Arkansas.]
Uihlein and his wife, Elizabeth, of Lake Forest, Ill., founded Uline, a shipping and packaging supply company. The couple are among the leading backers of Republican and conservative state and federal candidates and causes in the country
Uihlein is the guy who’s put $1 million into an effort to support Jake Bequette, a Republican candidate for Senate.
Eventually, Fair Court must disclose financials, though such groups sometimes rely on contributions from PACs that are also difficult to penetrate. But on the mailing alone, it is a group you’d want to distance yourself from, along with the race-baiting opposition Walton has drawn from prominent Arkansas Republicans.
I haven’t seen Walton distance herself from the Soros effort, saying — as candidates benefitting from such efforts often do — that she’s running her own campaign.
The latest Soros mailing claims Will Jones blamed a victim of sexual assault, saying he called victims “naive and gullible” in court. This is wildly out of context. Here’s the story. Jones successfully prosecuted a rape case in 2008 and got a 28-year sentence for a security guard who used a badge to persuade two women he was a police officer saving them from involvement in a drug bust before groping them and raping one. From the newspaper account, full of ghastly accounts of what Chase Prater did:
Prater acknowledged carrying his badge with him, but denied deliberately showing it to anyone or making any claim to be a police officer. Deputy prosecutor Will Jones told jurors they should think about why Prater would carry the golden palm-sized shield into the bar with him.
“There’s only one reason to use it,” Jones said, describing the women as “naive and gullible” victims. “He’s counting on you to be naive and gullible, too. There’s no better power than to do what he did to those girls … and come in here and talk his way out of this.”
Sound like he was anti-victim?
And then there’s the criticism of Jones in the Soros mailer for being a “protege” of retiring Prosecutor Larry Jegley, who is faulted for not filing criminal charges against the police officer, Charles Starks, who fatally shot a Black man, Bradley Blackshire during a traffic stop. Tough case. It was a hard but defensible call by Jegley, who once tried mightily, through two hung juries, to convict another white Little Rock police officer for shooting a black suspect. Blackshire was driving a stolen car toward Starks who’d ordered him to stop and he fired after jumping in front of the car. Starks didn’t follow police procedure on the stop, issues that may have justified his firing, but not prosecution. Jegley wrote at the time:
Starks was confronted with the imminent threat of deadly force in two forms: 1) the vehicle that was driving toward him and from which he had no duty to retreat, and 2) his reasonable belief that Mr. Blackshire was going to shoot him. Starks’ use of force, under Arkansas law and prior decisions by the United States Supreme court, was justified.
We haven’t had a better, fairer prosecutor than Larry Jegley during my 49 years in Little Rock. Being identified as a protege should be an endorsement. Alicia Walton should distance herself from the dark money mailing, just as Jones has done.