Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gilbert Baker's bundling raises questions, including for Justice Rhonda Wood

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 9:26 AM

click to enlarge CONWAY CONFIDENTIAL: Might Justice Rhonda Wood be able to fill in some "background information" for FBI about Gilbert Baker's fund-raising activities for political candidates?
  • CONWAY CONFIDENTIAL: Might Justice Rhonda Wood be able to fill in some "background information" for FBI about Gilbert Baker's fund-raising activities for political candidates?
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Debra Hale Shelton reported this morning on new allegations in the lawsuit over the scandalous $4.2 million reduction of a nursing home negligence verdict by then-Judge Michael Maggio, who's admitted he took a bribe in the form of campaign contributions funneled through an unnamed person to reduce the verdict.

The story today was about the allegation in a lawsuit that nursing home magnate Michael Morton sent a $100,000 charitable contribution to UCA as a payoff to former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker for serving as a middle man for Morton campaign cash that went to Maggio around the time he reduced the verdict. Neither Baker nor Morton have been named by the prosecutors in the federal case against Maggio and both claim innocence in all matters. (Baker did some successful lobbying in the 2015 legislature, including for Big Tobacco. If you can't trust Arkansas's Republican-majority legislature to judge character, who can you trust?)

The suit by family members of a woman who died in a Greenbrier nursing home in extreme agony was filed t in Faulkner Circuit Court. It's an appropriate forum because Baker's bundling activities apparently included serious money-raising for many judicial candidates in Faulkner County. He played heavily in state legislative races, too.

I'm interested in Baker's bundling because of a brief reference in Hale-Shelton's article. She reports:

In a related development, former state Rep. Ann Clemmer, a former Republican congressional candidate, has confirmed to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the FBI has interviewed her about the criminal case.

She did not want to discuss details of the interview but said the FBI told her it was for "background" information. Clemmer is now the Arkansas Department of Higher Education's senior associate director of academic affairs.

Might Clemmer, as a former legislator and failed congressional candidate in 2014, have some "background" on Baker's fund-raising activities? If that be the line of inquiry, the next obvious questions are for the judicial and legislative candidates who received money with Baker's assistance.

At the top of the list would have to be Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, a Conway hometown friend of Baker's. In her first campaign filing for Arkansas Supreme Court (a race she won without opposition helped by her early money), $76,000 of her first $152,000 came from Morton, his companies and another nursing home management concern with which Baker was familiar.

Has the FBI talked to Wood for "background information"? I'd ask, but Wood doesn't respond to my questions and blocks me from her social media accounts.

Wood has been working feverishly behind the scenes to get on the same-sex marriage case (and seems likely to get her wish soon with the help of fellow Republicans recently appointed by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson as special justices to decide jurisdiction). Will she work so hard to stay on the Maggio bribery lawsuit against her friend and fund-raiser Gilbert Baker when and if the Faulkner County case reaches the Supreme Court? If Hutchinson can appoint a campaign supporter of Leslie Rutledge to hear a case Rutledge brought, it shouldn't be much of a problem in the new Republican era for a judge to hear a criminal case against a campaign supporter.

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