JUDICIAL RACES: Let’s sort out these races.

Early voting has started, so let’s try to sort out these judicial races. 

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Last week, we provided a round-up of the races, candidates and fundraising totals. This week, we’ve called on former Arkansas Times Editor Max Brantley and our resident lawyer Matt Campbell, aka the Blue Hog, to help us figure out who to vote for. 

Here’s what they had to say. 

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Arkansas Supreme Court – Chief Justice

This race will fill the seat of retiring Chief Justice Dan Kemp

Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood

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Supreme Court Justice Karen Baker

Supreme Court Justice Barbara Womack Webb

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Jay Martin, former Democratic state representative from Little Rock

Brantley said he would vote for Baker for chief justice and described her as a “solid, non-partisan performer on the court.” 

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Campbell also said he’d vote for Baker but chose some more, ahem, colorful words to explain why.

“Choosing between Baker, Wood, Webb and Martin is like choosing which kind of flesh-eating bacteria you want to contract,” Campbell said. “There are no good answers. But Baker is, in my opinion, the best of the three justices running. She is not as reactionary or polarizing as Wood, and she isn’t as overtly partisan as Webb.”

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Arkansas Supreme Court, Associate Justice, Position 2

This race will fill the seat vacated when Justice Robin Wynne died last year. Gov. Sarah Sanders appointed Cody Hiland to serve the remainder of Wynne’s term, but state law prevents him from running for the seat. 

Supreme Court Justice Courtney Hudson 

Circuit Judge Carlton D. Jones

This race is tricky, a little confusing, and possibly the most interesting one on the ballot. Hudson is already a member of the Supreme Court and her term is not up until 2026. 

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If Hudson wins, she’ll get a fresh eight-year term that she says will allow her to serve on the court longer under judicial retirement rules. Sanders would appoint Hudson’s successor, a frightening possibility for Democrats who don’t want more hard-right judges on the court. 

Jones is a circuit judge in Texarkana and, if he wins, the court will have its first elected Black justice. Under this scenario, Hudson won’t lose her current seat and she’ll be up for reelection to that seat in two years. And Sanders won’t get to make an appointment to fill Hudson’s unexpired term. 

Brantley said he will vote for Jones, saying he’s qualified and that “It’s past time for a Black person to be elected to the Supreme Court.” Brantley also noted the benefit of not allowing Sanders the chance to appoint a partisan Republican to further stack what he said was “an already aggressively partisan bench”. 

Brantley also said Hudson’s explanation for shifting seats to add two more years on her potential service in a couple of decades “just doesn’t pass the smell test for me.”

Campbell said he likes Hudson “both as a person and as a judge,” but doesn’t want to give Sanders a chance to make another appointment to the court. 

“That’s a deal-breaker in my book,” Campbell said of the prospects of a Sanders appointment. “Additionally, having tried cases in his court before, I know Jones is a very, very good trial judge with the right temperament for an appellate judge. Plus, the three prior Black men to serve on the state’s high court were all appointed, and finally electing a Black man to the court would be a good thing.” 

Arkansas Court of Appeals Associate Judge, District 6, Position 1

This seat is held by Rita Gruber who is not running for reelection. 

Molly McNulty, Little Rock attorney

Circuit Judge Casey Tucker

Pam Hathaway, Little Rock attorney 

Tucker has judicial experience, having been elected to the Pulaski County Circuit Court bench in 2020, but Campbell said he’s voting for McNulty.  

“It’s not that Tucker is a bad judge – she’s totally fine – but running for Court of Appeals the very next cycle after winning a circuit judge seat rubs me the wrong way. Circuit judgeships are not stepping stones. Also, McNulty (nine years) and Pam Hathaway (25 years) each have extensive, recent experience clerking for appellate judges and working alongside others on the appellate courts.”

Circuit Judge, District 6, Division 17, Subdistrict 6.2

This race will fill the seat held by Mackie Pierce, who is running for a different judgeship. 

Brent Eubanks, Little Rock attorney

Robert Cortinez, Little Rock attorney

Brooke Augusta Ware, Little Rock attorney

Campbell said he’s voting for Cortinez based on his range of experience. 

“My main reason for picking Cortinez here is that he has experience litigating a broad range of issues and legal areas, while Ware’s practice has almost exclusively been in family law,” Campbell said. 

State District Judge, District 31, Pulaski

This race will fill the seat held by Wayne Gruber who is retiring. 

Circuit Judge Morgan “Chip” Welch

Beth Burgess, Perryville attorney

Campbell gave his highest praise to Welch, who he described as fair even in cases that Campbell lost in the court. 

“Truly great trial judges, who listen attentively to both sides and give each a fair opportunity to present their cases, are rare. I can think of maybe five that I’ve practiced in front of in Arkansas and Chip Welch is one of them,” Campbell said. “Hell, I’ve lost cases in his court before and left there thinking what a great job he did to reach the right answer. Beth Burgess, on the other hand, is the daughter of Little Rock lawyer Herby Branscum and was appointed as a juvenile-court circuit judge by Mike Beebe in 2011. Burgess’ current messaging seems to be trying to position herself as a conservative (without saying so directly).”

State District Judge, District 31, Little Rock 1

This race will fill the seat of Melanie Martin who is running unopposed for a different seat. 

Jill Kamps, deputy prosecuting attorney in Pulaski County

Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce

Campbell had high praise for Kamps and strong feelings about Pierce. 

“Kamps is a prosecutor, smart as a whip, and has a fantastic judicial temperament,” Campbell said. “She understands the criminal justice system and I’ve never seen her take her prosecutorial responsibilities lightly.” 

Campbell echoed the sentiments we have heard from others that Pierce has bullied women in his court, hasn’t followed the law at times, isn’t fair to all the people before him in court and, sometimes, makes rulings off-the-record in emails rather than the court docket.  

“In my experience, he treats female litigants in domestic cases noticeably worse than their male counterparts,” Campbell said. “I’ve also seen him either not understand the law or simply choose to rule contrary to the law because he wanted to reach a different result. He would be a nightmare in district court for several reasons.”  

Campbell said Pierce has a slow-moving docket, so the cases don’t move through efficiently. 

State District Judge, District 31, Little Rock 2

That race will fill the seat of Vic Fleming who is retiring. 

Circuit Judge Herb Wright

Robert Tellez, North Little Rock attorney

Campbell said Tellez and Wright would both be good picks for the court and he couldn’t choose between them. Campbell noted that Tellez, whose Spanish-language ads have been running on Univision lately, has language skills that could be helpful in traffic court. 

“Both Tellez and Circuit Judge Herb Wright are fine choices here,” Campbell said. “I do think Tellez would bring new blood to the bench, which can’t be a bad thing, everything else being roughly equal.”

Ben Hall, a Little Rock lawyer and a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, offered his picks in the judicial races today as well.