There's been some fairly outspoken campaigning in the face-off between the incumbent Division 9 circuit judge (Circuit Judge Mary McGowan) and her challenger (Cecily Skarda).
But candidates in the other five contested races for circuit and district judgeships in the county are keeping a lower profile. That's typical. Candidates cannot comment on matters likely to come before the court, for example, nor can they publicly identify their party affiliation. If you don't know the candidates personally or through the legal community, it's tough to choose one over another.
So how does one decide how to vote in a judicial election? The Times interviewed the contenders to give readers a better idea of who to pull the lever for.
Pulaski County Circuit Court
Three lawyers in private practice are seeking the position currently held by Rita Gruber, who is leaving the county bench to make a run against Wendell Griffen for the state Court of Appeals. The court hears juvenile cases. Pay is $128,633 per year. Judges serve six-year terms.
Cathi Compton, 52, who comes from a criminal defense background, said she's running because she thinks an effective juvenile court can help prevent future adult crime. Compton has served as a special justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court and chaired the first Arkansas Public Defender Commission (1993-1998). She lives on Wye Mountain.
Melinda Gilbert, 43, of Little Rock, who practices family and juvenile law, is serving a second term on the state Supreme Court's Committee on Child Support and has served as a special judge. She said she would work toward effective management of the court, including the implementation of video teleconferencing. Gilbert has been endorsed by the North Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police.
Jewel “Cricket” Harper, 50, of Sherwood emphasized her 19 years in children's law and said she would be the proactive judge the busy juvenile court requires. Harper has served as a special judge and was an attorney in Pulaski County Court's juvenile division for 10 years. She also directed the Supreme Court's ad litem program.
Little Rock District Court
Division 1: Criminal
A judge, a deputy prosecutor and a member of the state parole board are facing off for the criminal division seat currently held by Judge Lee Munson. The court handles misdemeanors primarily, but it also deals with first appearances in felony cases. The court also signs warrants in felony cases. Pay is $131,017 per year for a four-year term.
Alice Lightle, 54, who was appointed Little Rock environmental judge by Gov. Mike Beebe in 2007 and is a former assistant state attorney general and commissioner on the state Workers Compensation Commission, said the big issue for the court will be to look at freeing up jail space. To that end, she said she will explore new approaches in community punishment, including the possible use of treatment. She lives in Little Rock.
Hugh Finkelstein, 44, of Little Rock, who has spent 12 years in the Pulaski County prosecutor's office, also supports expanded treatment and said he would apply for state and federal grants to fund it. He would also implement video arraignments. He's taught criminal evidence at UALR and skills seminars to police officers around the state and has been endorsed by the Little Rock FOP, the North Little Rock FOP and the Little Rock Black Police Officers Association.
Ernest Sanders, 42, of Little Rock is a hearing examiner for the Arkansas Parole Board, which he said has given him the experience he needs to sit as judge. He was formerly chief of the juvenile division in the county prosecutor's office. Sanders said he would work on video arraignment and jail space issues. He also said he would increase random home visits and require community involvement from parole officers.
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