Thursday, July 23, 2015

Justice Wood talks about confidential court matters in press interview

Posted By on Thu, Jul 23, 2015 at 7:12 AM

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummett was granted an interview with Associate Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, who's spinning her role in ongoing internal divisions on the court about administrative and other matters.

Short version: Rhonda Wood thinks it's terrible that people have been leaking internal information about the court so she did it, too.

The column doesn't mention it, but Wood's unhappiness is directed in part at reporting in the Arkansas Times about the power struggle over court administration — hiring and firing of court employees, pay scale and similar. Wood has aligned with a controlling bloc that has seized administrative control from Chief Justice Jim Hannah.

I've also reported in detail here the tortured path of the same-sex marriage case, undecided by the Arkansas Supreme Court eight months after it was "expedited." Wood's arrival on the court and desire to participate in that historic case were among the reasons for delay .

Wood says this, as if correcting a mistake that never was made:  She reveals an internal vote in June on the case was to overturn Circuit Judge Chris Piazza, but only as to the part of his ruling that held the fundamental rights section of the Arkansas Constitution could not be overridden by the popularly adopted constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Of course it was restricted to that point.. The opinion was done in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling opposite of what was issued — that there was no federal constitutional argument against same-sex marriage bans. Only the state claim would have been left standing had the U.S. Supreme Court not ruled as it did. The majority intended to dodge the case if the Supreme Court ruled for equality, which it did and they did.

Wood won't talk to me. She bans me from following her Twitter account, though I still do by alternate means. One reason she won't talk to me is that she knows if she gave me an interview I'd also ask her about her discussions with her hometown friend, former Republican senator and campaign bagman Gilbert Baker about the big financial contributions nursing home magnate Michael Morton poured into her campaign at its critical outset, a $46,000 infusion that sent a signal she'd be hard to top in the money wars now necessary to win Supreme Court seats. Baker joined the happy throng at Wood's investiture, though by then it was well known he was hip-deep in the Michael Maggio scandal, which has Maggio facing prison for saying that he took money in the form of campaign contributions to throw a decision in a nursing home negligence case in Morton's direction. Maggio and Wood were old pals until his Internet posting hit the press.  They joked in a warm newspaper profile about how Maggio typically was her driver to public appearances. These included  Republican organization meetings where both campaigned (until Maggio was defrocked.)

I might also ask her about prolific warm tweets about politicians — exclusively Republican ones. Judicious?

PS — I forgot to mention originally that then-Judge Wood sealed Maggio's personal divorce case, a courtesy not extended to routine divorce litigants under normal open court rules. But Faulkner County is different. Karen Baker, now aligned with Wood on the Supreme Court, extended a similar courtesy to millionaire Charles Morgan and for months refused to respond to a motion to open the file.

UPDATE: Justice Wood, upset about confidentiality breaches at the Supreme Court, continues her own personal breaches by also telling the Associated Press about a vote on overturning Piazza. As I reported this morning and previously, that opinion was to be issued only if the Supreme Court had NOT ruled for marriage equality. Judicious she isn't. Not very honest either.

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