UPDATE: The best judges nursing homes can elect | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, January 11, 2015

UPDATE: The best judges nursing homes can elect

Posted By on Sun, Jan 11, 2015 at 9:36 AM

HAPPY DAY: Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, shown here after swearing in fellow Faulkner Countian Troy Braswell (center) to a circuit judgeship. Both were among the beneficiaries of nursing home owner Michael Morton's heavy spending on judicial campaigns. They are shown with  Tim Fox, another successful candidate for election this year. Fox reported no nursing home contributions. - TWITTER/@JUDGERHONDAWOOD
  • Twitter/@judgerhondawood
  • HAPPY DAY: Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, shown here after swearing in fellow Faulkner Countian Troy Braswell (center) to a circuit judgeship. Both were among the beneficiaries of nursing home owner Michael Morton's heavy spending on judicial campaigns. They are shown with Tim Fox, another successful candidate for election this year. Fox reported no nursing home contributions.
A few further pieces of information on the influence of nursing home money in races for Arkansas Supreme Court.

I received a spreadsheet from a friend that lists the $91,000 in nursing home money that went into Associate Justice Courtney Goodson's race for the court in 2010. Michael Morton properties are prominent among them.




Does such giving influence a judge? Does the giver think it will influence a judge? Does it leave the appearance that the answer could be 'yes'?

It doesn't stop with Courtney Goodson on the Supreme Court.

Newly elected Supreme Court Associate Justice Rhonda Wood got $49,000 from Morton, according to her first financial reports, part of $76,000 in nursing home industry contributions. She got another $2,000 from tort reform champion Sen. Eddie Joe Williams' PAC, financed in part by $5,000 from Michael Morton.

Morton poured a huge sum into judicial races arising in Faulkner County, guided by home-town boy former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker, bagman of the Republican Party. Baker was implicated in Friday's guilty plea by former Judge Mike Maggio in a political bribery scheme in which Maggio admitted taking contributions (apparently from Morton) funneled through an intermediary (apparently Baker) to reduce a $5.2 million verdict against a Morton nursing home to $1 million.

Morton's money in Faulkner County went also to Maggio and circuit judge candidates Troy Braswell, Doralee Chandler and David Clark as well as to Conway resident Rhonda Wood. Wood swore in Braswell to the bench, I noticed on her Twitter feed this week. Braswell also got $1,000 of the Eddie Joe Williams PAC money. The notorious Gilbert Baker put $2,000 into Williams' PAC to give it to candidates.

But this still isn't all. Morton also contributed to the campaigns of two other Supreme Court candidates, both winners — Robin Wynne and Karen Baker. He gave at least $7,000 to Wynne, who had an opponent, and $20,000 to Baker, who was unopposed.

So we know Morton has better than $100,000 invested in the campaigns of four Supreme Court justices, a majority of the seven-member court. We know, too, that Baker was an intermediary on a great deal of this money, particularly in Wood's campaign this year.

Does it make the judges guilty of anything? No. Does it present an overwhelming stench? You tell me.

Given the public knowledge of the federal investigation that led to Mike Maggio's guilty plea Friday, however, it might have been better for appearances sake had Gilbert Baker not been among the crowd on hand cheering Rhonda Wood's investiture as a Supreme Court justice last week.

Morton's contributions to Maggio were a pittance compared with the $4.2 million return. Morton, of course, says he had no such intention in making contributions. He's merely interested in the sorts of people that he believes will enforce the law in keeping with his idea of sound jurisprudence.

Neither Morton nor Baker have been charged with anything. They are innocent. Unless proven otherwise.

We don't yet know what friend of Maggio advised him that eliminating text messages was a good strategy to deal with his burgeoning scandal. Not a very smart friend, apparently. We'll hope it's none of his many (former) friends in the legal community, who are trained to know better. Maggio missed that course in law school.

UPDATE: I neglected to review the full picture. Make that FIVE of the seven members of the Arkansas Supreme Court who have reason to be thankful to the nursing home lobby for their campaign finance bankrolls. Justice Jo Hart got $23,000 from nursing home contributions in 2012 and, according to someone who was there, even thanked Michael Morton for his help during her acceptance speech.

Also, re the relative chump change Morton gave Robin Wynne. Morton also gave $40,000 to Tim Cullen, defeated by Wynne in the campaign with the help of still mysterious black money TV attacks.

And finally, do remember the $70,000 Morton gave Leslie Rutledge, the Republican who won the race for attorney general, also helped by some dark money attacks on Nate Steel.

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