Friday, September 19, 2014

Arkansas Supreme Court 2016 rumor mill; already a non-denial

Posted By on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 7:04 AM

click to enlarge THE SUPREMES: Who will lead them after 2016?
  • THE SUPREMES: Who will lead them after 2016?

A couple of divided Arkansas Supreme Court decisions Thursday  inspired legal rumor mill chatter about the next round of elections in 2016.

Chief Justice Jim Hannah's seat will be on the ballot. His age, by then over 70, means if he ran again he'd have to forfeit future retirement benefits under Arkansas law. The expectation, as a consequence, has been that he won't run.

Associate Justice Courtney Goodson is expected to seek the seat and reportedly has already begun making rounds of lawyers on such a race. She starts with a built-in advantage: The immense wealth, fund-raising ability and political clout of her current husband, John Goodson, the UA trustee and successful class action lawyer.

Anybody else? Many are looking.

Most fascinating rumor of the day: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who leaves office at the end of this year,was said to be thinking about the race. I asked him. Response:

I think we should get past this election cycle before commenting on the next election cycle. I'm focused on doing my job until my last day.

Hmmm.

Then I heard something more interesting. It was that Hannah might run again, either giving up a pension or perhaps benefitting if someone filed the long-anticipated suit challenging the pension rule as age discriminatory. Hannah has some impetus to want to hold his seat. Some of the new members of the court have formed a dissenting bloc on some issues, including foiling his preference for the next Supreme Court clerk, a chief administrative office. Goodson and Justices Karen Baker and Jo Hart aligned on that issue, with appointed Justice Cliff Hoofman playing a critical role by not voting, leaving a 3-3 split. (It so happens that Hoofman joined with Baker and Goodson in one dissent yesterday and formed a four-vote majority with Baker, Goodson and Hart in another opinion.)

Judges have tried unsuccessfully in the past to get the legislature to lift the retirement age. It's an issue in many other states, too, because of a growing belief that 70 is not as old as once thought. (I know; that depends.) Legal challenges weren't encouraged by a U.S. circuit court of appeals ruling in Pennsylvania this year that the mandatory retirement law there was constitutional.

Incidental notes: McDaniel ruffled the female court bloc — who glared at him in front-row seats at a bar meeting this summer — with a pronouncement on results-oriented decisions by the Supreme Court. Rhonda Wood, who'll join the court in January (powered by huge early money from nursing home magnate Michael Morton of Mike Maggio infamy), was among those who lobbied to retain the 70-retirement rule. She's been rumored to have chief justice aspirations, too. The seat of  Justice Paul Danielson, another justice who'll be over 70, is also on the ballot in 2016. Circuit Judge Shawn Womack of Mountain Home, the former Republican legislator, is mentioned as hoping to join the growing Republican contingent on the court.

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