Circuit Judge Dan Kemp says he never asked Hinkle for money, did nothing wrong | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Circuit Judge Dan Kemp says he never asked Hinkle for money, did nothing wrong

Posted By on Sat, Feb 27, 2016 at 3:40 PM

Circuit Judge Dan Kemp, a candidate for chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, has now spoken with D-G columnist John Brummett about questions raised regarding his handling of a 2014 criminal case. Blue Hog Report blogger Matt Campbell has argued that Kemp should have recused himself on a drug case involving the daughter of prominent Stone County banker and political player Jim Hinkle. In a blog post today, Brummett relays Kemp's side of things — he says he did nothing wrong, never asked Hinkle for money, and implies that he's the victim of a political hit job. 

Here's the gist of the controversy: Hinkle's daughter reached a misdemeanor plea deal on felony drug charges with prosecutors, with rehab treatment part of the deal. Judge Kemp accepted the deal, a relatively favorable one for Hinkle's daughter. Again, the plea deal was struck with prosecutors, and I haven't heard any sort of convincing argument that it was inappropriate. Nevertheless, Campbell argues that rather than signing off on it as judge, Kemp should have recused because Hinkle was a longtime friend and potential political supporter (Hinkle eventually donated to Kemp's campaign and sent out a supportive email backing his bid for chief justice). Campbell made a complaint to the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission about Kemp's handling of Hinkle's daughter's case, and his campaign's recent statements regarding that case. Campbell thought that there was at least the appearance of impropriety and Kemp should have recused.  

Then yesterday, Campbell upped the ante on the controversy by publishing an interview with Sheffield Nelson, a lawyer, businessman and longtime political figure. Nelson dishes out some hearsay gossip in what is basically a game of telephone: Nelson says that Hinkle (a close friend) called him after his daughter's plea deal — and said that Kemp called Hinkle after the case was over and asked for money and political support. The implication: Kemp was asking for campaign cash in return for favorable treatment of Hinkle's daughter. 

Before I go on, I think it's worth explicitly stating what everyone is thinking/assuming: This looks like an oppo research dump. Nelson is a Goodson supporter and has raised money for her campaign. I do not know what prompted Campbell's interest in this issue but, as Benji and Lindsey noted on yesterday's podcast, it just so happens that from time to time in this business, politicians and their allies feed folks like us (or Blue Hog Report!) possibly damaging info about their opponents. That doesn't mean it's not true, or not worthy of investigation! But I think at this point in this kerfuffle, we may as well make the subtext into text: Goodson's allies are trying to dig up dirt on Kemp. 

Brummett largely paraphrases Kemp so I'm going to quote at length from his blog rather than Kemp directly: 

Here is Kemp’s scenario:

Hinkle’s 42-year-old eldest daughter got arrested on drug charges in late October 2014. In November 2014, Kemp signed off on an agreement between the prosecutor and the defense attorney to continue the case while the daughter went to rehab.

A year later, last November, days after Kemp had announced as a candidate for chief justice against Goodson, the prosecutor brought the matter before the court because the rehab had been completed.

The plea arrangement for a misdemeanor conviction of driving while intoxicated by drugs was based on a first offense, which Kemp said he remembered asking the deputy prosecutor to confirm. That was based on what was in the file regarding the license number check from the arrest the year before, which reflected that the Arkansas Crime Information Center report came back showing no felonies or outstanding warrants.

We need to fix that, Kemp said. He’s seen it happen elsewhere – meaning an inaccurate ACIC report.

Anyway, the case was ended – meaning the plea negotiation accepted – last Nov. 10.

Kemp says he and his wife came to Little Rock that evening to fly out for a long-planned vacation the next morning, and returned on the 20th, and that the earliest he could have called Hinkle was Nov. 21.

He has some notes from that day seeming to reflect South Arkansas contacts that either Hinkle or Hinkle’s wife gave him.

It is customary for judge candidates to call well-connected people to ask for help and to seek referrals to people who might help them in other parts of the state.

But not to ask for money. A judge candidate is not to do that directly.

Kemp said he called Hinkle to seek his campaign help, but that he of course knew better than to ask for money, for that was forbidden, and that he most certainly did not do so.

Kemp said Hinkle would back up his story; like Brummett we've tried to get in touch with Hinkle, but he's apparently vacationing in Hawaii. 

Kemp said there was no shakedown or attempt to link Hinkle's support to Kemp's handling of his daughter's case: 

Kemp said the daughter’s case came up in that conversation, yes, but in this way: He told Hinkle the case was settled, as Hinkle already knew, and that the only context he was intending to apply was that he was free to ask for Hinkle’s campaign help without that matter pending.

In other words, it’s over, it’s no longer a conflict in our discussion about your helping me in this campaign.

“It’s what candidates do," Kemp said of his call to Hinkle. "You ask people to support you. You don’t ask for money, though, and I didn’t.”

Here's Kemp on the recusal question: 

I didn’t see any reason. It was carried over from a year before. I know the Hinkles, of course, but I know the families of a lot of people who come through court. Now, I did recuse from a case – in August, I think – when the case of a child of the woman who does my taxes came through. But that was because of a direct business relationship, which didn’t exist here.

Kemp on what he thinks is behind the story: 

Finally, Kemp reminded me that, in a phone conversation we had last November, he declared himself fairly certain the Goodson forces would find something about which to launch a last-minute smear, and that he told me at that time: “They can damage my reputation. But they can’t damage my character.”

To be honest, I think my read on this story is colored by my own perspective on the criminal justice system: prosecutorial discretion leading to more treatment and less jail time on nonviolent drug offenses is a good thing! It seems like the disposition of the case in question was the proper one. 

Is there fire in this smoke? I won't pretend to know, but I'll say that the supposed quid pro quo doesn't make all that much sense to me. The prosecutors struck the deal. Isn't the prosecutor the key actor here? How often do judges refuse to accept a plea deal a prosecutor makes? In a drug case in which the defendant had agreed to rehab? Local lawyers, tell me if I'm missing something (my only experience with criminal court was an old gig in Orleans Parish, but at least there, the judge typically had little to nothing to do with the plea deal reached between the defense and the prosecution). 

I have no doubt that the daughter of a prominent family in Stone County was always going to end up with a better outcome in court than your average drug-charge defendant. That is too bad, although from my perspective the problem is overzealous prosecution of poor defendants, not lenient treatment of wealthy/connected defendants. But it's a little hard to read Kemp signing off on the plea agreement as some kind of sweetheart deal that he would ask for a payback for. It's not like Hinkle is a rube. It seems like the outcome would have been more or less the same with a different judge sitting — so would it even be coherent for Kemp to suggest to Hinkle that he was doing him a favor? Again, local lawyers, am I missing something? 

Hinkle will have a lot of voicemail awaiting him when he gets back from the beach.

Sign up for the Daily Update email

Comments (16)

Showing 1-16 of 16

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-16 of 16

Add a comment

More by David Ramsey

  • DHS continues to reimburse Medicaid managed care company co-owned by Preferred Family Healthcare

    The Department of Human Services continues to use a provider-led Medicaid managed care company that is part-owned by Preferred Family Healthcare, despite a recent decision to cut other ties with the Springfield, Mo.-based nonprofit enmeshed in multiple corruption scandals.
    • Jul 13, 2018
  • State yanks PFH funds

    Another former executive with scandal-plagued mental health provider arrested.
    • Jul 5, 2018
  • Robin Raveendran and Person 9 in the Cranford/Preferred Family Healthcare web

    The federal criminal information released as part of former lobbyist Rusty Cranford's June 7 guilty plea on bribery charges describes a Person 9 who worked for the nonprofit healthcare provider Preferred Family Healthcare and was associated with Cranford. The description of Person 9 appears to match Robin Raveendran, the former PFH executive — and former longtime staffer at the state's Department of Human Services — who was arrested Thursday in a separate case, charged in Independence County with two felony counts of Medicaid fraud after an investigation by the state's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
    • Jun 29, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Women's March planned in Arkansas to mark Trump inauguration

    Speaking of Donald Trump and in answer to a reader's question: There will be a women's march in Arkansas on Jan. 21, the day after inauguration, as well as the national march planned in Washington.
    • Dec 30, 2016
  • Little Rock housing study finds linkage between respiratory-related hospital stays and property code violations

    People hospitalized for a respiratory-related illness at UAMS were twice as likely to rent a property that at some point has been issued a mold-related violation notice from Little Rock's Code Enforcement Division when compared to a control population adjusted for demographic differences.
    • May 2, 2018
  • Trump immigration protest at LR: Quick and fierce

    It was not even 24 hours ago that Sophia Said, director of the Interfaith Center; City Director Kathy Webb and others decided to organize a protest today of Donald Trump's executive order that has left people from Muslim countries languishing in airports or unable to come to the US at all — people with visas, green cards,a  post-doc graduate student en route to Harvard, Google employees abroad, families. I got the message today before noon; others didn't find out until it was going on. But however folks found out, they turned out in huge numbers, more than thousand men, women and children, on the grounds of the state Capitol to listen to speakers from all faiths and many countries.
    • Jan 29, 2017

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments



© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation