All over but the judging 

Happy day. Unless there's a runoff somewhere out in the state, judicial elections are over for another year.

I wrote this before polls closed, but could Arkansas have had a better illustration of the folly of electing judges than this year?

The fun started with Circuit Judge Mike Maggio of Conway. He was headed to unopposed election to the Arkansas Court of Appeals until word surfaced that he'd said sexist, bigoted, stupid things — repeatedly — on an LSU fan website. He also revealed confidential matters in his court.

He probably could have dodged that indiscretion but for an even more unseemly happening. With help from Republican political fixer Gilbert Baker, a nursing home jillionaire in Fort Smith pushed a bunch of money into Maggio's campaign at the moment Maggio was preparing to reduce a nursing home damage verdict against the very same man by a cool $4.2 million.

Multiple investigations continue. Maggio, the scourge of welfare deadbeats in his court, is drawing $140,000 from Arkansas taxpayers while suspended from judicial duties. A deadbeat, in other words. An honorable man would resign. But he's been on the teat too long for honest toil.

Judicial races smelled a good bit like an ill-kempt nursing home in more than one race. The same nursing home fat cat poured more than $100,000 into Supreme Court races. Nursing home money accounted for about half the money raised by Rhonda Wood, a Maggio pal from Conway, in her uncontested race for court.

Nursing homes really like Faulkner County. They accounted for $3 of every $4 collected by candidate Doralee Chandler; $20,000 of Judge David Clark's money, and $8,000 of candidate Troy Braswell's money. All these candidates — Maggio, Wood and the Faulkner bunch — also shared campaign tactics. Through the code words "conservative" and "values" and attendance at Republican Party events, candidates aimed to send a message that they are part of Arkansas's growing Republican majority (judges now run as nonpartisans). Vote for them and the implied message is you won't have to worry about a judge who might allow abortion to remain legal or allow a couple of women to marry.

There was some unseemly bickering and trickery in a batch of lawsuits aimed at disqualifying one candidate or the other for failing to pay bar dues in a timely fashion or, in one case, not having practiced law for an extended period before making a race for judge. The Supreme Court — all of them late on their own bar dues at one time or another in their careers — found a dodge around the delinquent payments. They made an even more fanciful dodge around the core question presented in the case of the candidate without active legal service for six years before filing for election. Justice Donald Corbin, departing for retirement at the end of this year, called it like he and a lot of observers saw it — "results oriented" jurisprudence.

When judges are popularly elected, outcomes are too easily influenced by dirty money, and judges as a result are too prone to tailor the law to desired results. See, for dirty money, the uncommonly dishonest campaign raised by an anonymously financed Virginia group that trashed Supreme Court candidate Tim Cullen, an Eagle Scout, as a fan of child pornography. They are also too easily spooked by legislative demagogues. See the Supreme Court's hurry-up stay of Chris Piazza's marriage equality ruling on the day the legislature was trying to stoke the fire for a drive to impeach Piazza — or any other judge — who displeases fire breathers like Sen. Jason Rapert.

If we keep electing judges we'll see more of this, not less. Particularly if the slimy tactics produced victories Tuesday.

Speaking of...

  • Mike Maggio files for unemployment compensation

    October 10, 2014
    Mike Maggio, who was removed from his elected position as circuit judge on account of ethical violations, has filed a claim for unemployment compensation from the state of Arkansas. State officials are looking at the claim with skepticism. Mike Maggio, who was removed from his elected position as circuit judge on account of ethical violations, has filed a claim for unemployment compensation from the state of Arkansas. His attorney, though not directly involved, says it's now her understanding that the claim has been — or will be — withdrawn. /more/
  • Judicial Disicipline confirms review of complaint on Rapert-Hoofman talk

    September 23, 2014
    David Sachar, executive director of the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, confirms our report yesterday that a complaint has been filed regarding a conversation between Supreme Court Justice Cliff Hoofman and Sen. Jason Rapert. /more/
  • The judicial marketplace in Arkansas

    September 18, 2014
    When the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the old maxim "money speaks" needed to be in the Constitution and, in fact, was already there hiding in the First Amendment, it took a while for the concept to root in remote Arkansas. /more/
  • Michael Murphy will complete Mike Maggio's term as judge

    September 15, 2014
    Gov. Mike Beebe today named Michael Murphy, the Conway city attorney, to complete Mike Maggio's term as circuit judge, which ends Dec. 31 /more/
  • Justice Cliff Hoofman recuses from same-sex marriage appeal

    September 12, 2014
    Supreme Court Justice Cliff Hoofman has recused from considering the appeal of Judge Chris Piazza's decision striking down the state's constitutional and statutory ban on same-sex marriage. /more/
  • The Max Despairs Edition

    September 12, 2014
    The latest on statewide political races, Leslie Rutledge’s past, top secret divorces in Faulkner County, a victory for Little Rock private clubs and something rotten happening in Crittenden County — all covered on this week's podcast. /more/
  • Faulkner County word association: Follow the money to Fort Smith

    September 11, 2014
    Follow the money in Faulkner County to Fort Smith nursing home tycoon Michael Morton, who's spent tens of thousands to elect judicial candidates and is currently betting heavily on the Republican candidate for attorney general. /more/
  • Appoint Arkansas judges? Nothing to see here

    August 10, 2014
    A remark by lame-duck Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on his belief that judges should be appointed rather than elected prompted articles on the issue today in both the Democrat-Gazette and at Stephens Media. Bottom line: Ain't going to happen. /more/
  • The Poor Folks Vs. Rich Folks, White Folks Vs. Black Folks Edition

    August 8, 2014
    The latest in challenges to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, the end of Mike Maggio as a judge, a new poll that puts Arkansas ahead of all other states, the governor’s race and the environment and the latest controversy surrounding the Little Rock City Board — all covered on this week's early edition of the Week in Review podcast. /more/
  • Maggio issues statement on removal from the bench

    August 6, 2014
    Mike Maggio issued a statement today following his agreement that he'd violated judicial ethics rules sufficiently to be removed from the bench. He said he'd always treated people fairly. The record gave cause to question that. /more/
  • More »

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