Bundling bucks for judicial races; more splatters on Justice Wood | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Bundling bucks for judicial races; more splatters on Justice Wood

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 7:33 AM

BACK IN THE NEWS: Questions continue about Justice Rhonda Wood's significant financial support from the nursing home industry.
  • BACK IN THE NEWS: Questions continue about Justice Rhonda Wood's significant financial support from the nursing home industry.
Debra Hale-Shelton of the Democrat-Gazette detailed some court filings in the lawsuit alleging undue influence in then-Judge Mike Maggio's reduction of a jury verdict against a Michael Morton nursing home in return for campaign cash from Morton.

Morton is attempting to have the lawsuit dismissed. His motion — which includes evidence about his bundling of political contributions with guidance from former Republican senator and UCA lobbyist Gilbert Baker — says among other arguments that the record shows he gave money to 10 PACs — not to Maggio's campaign itself — and he did not control how those PACs gave money. His filing says, yes, he intended some money to go to Maggio, but Baker controlled the PACs and, when Morton gave the money, "he did not intend at the time" for it to go to Maggio. While the money was given to the PACs before Maggio reduced the nursing home verdict, none of the money reached Maggio before that decision. "There was no quid pro quo," Morton's attorney argued.

The exhibits filed by Morton's attorney, John Everett, once again produced embarrassment for Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, whose initial campaign finance reports in 2014 included, as I've reported a number of times, at least $46,000 from Morton out of roughly $150,000 raised, along with some other nursing home and Conway sources believed linked to Gilbert Baker's fund-raising activities. She reported the Morton contributions as having been received on Nov. 22. Contributions couldn't be legally solicited or accepted before Nov. 2013 and Wood told the Democrat-Gazette she did not do so. The checks for Wood were written by Morton and Fed Exed to Baker in July 2013. If we are to believe Wood, Baker acted independently without her knowledge, both in soliciting that money and in not mentioning he'd made this haul for her or delivered it until after the legal campaign start date. No mention was made in the new court filings of precisely when or to whom the Morton checks were delivered to the Wood campaign.

Wood's record on this money has long been less than credible. Back when the major contributions from nursing homes were first disclosed, her alibi was that it was not surprising she had received $70,000 in contributions from the "medical community," because she had practiced and taught health law and was married to a physician. This alibi was disingenuous. My examination showed she got $500 from a doctor, another small contribution from a dentist and the rest of that "medical community" money came from Morton and other nursing home interests, including individual nursing home LLCs and their real estate companies. It was all, I'm sure, merely a pleasant surprise when those checks showed up in her campaign treasury and that she had no idea Gilbert Baker, her fellow Conwegian, had anything to do with it. 

Everett quoted only some small selected portions — favorable to his client — of extensive depositions in the case. The plaintiffs' lawyer, Thomas Buchanan,  delved more deeply into Baker's fund-raising for the 2014 election and others who might have benefitted. It could be interesting reading, particularly as to who might have been involved in campaign guidance besides Baker.

There's a bare mention in the Everett filing, for example, of $50,000 that Morton gave to Arkansans for Lawsuit Reform.  It like, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, is a conservative interest group directed by former legislator Marvin Parks.  The Faith and Freedom group, you may remember, had Sen. Michael Lamoureux on a fat $120,0000 retainer while he led the Senate. He was a natural for that group's conservative aims, both as a Republican and, not incidentally, I'd guess, as a sponsor of a 2003 act to limit lawsuits against nursing homes. I detailed some of this rat's nest of interlocking lobby/legislative interests earlier. Still an interesting question is what "consultants" were paid by the Arkansans for Lawsuit Reform group.

Lamoureux, of course, went on to be Gov. Asa Hutchison's chief of staff and now has joined lawyer John Goodson's new Washington lobbying outfit.

Gilbert Baker, by the way, has joined Morton's motion for dismissal.

REMINDER: When Justice Wood was sworn in, she singled out Gilbert Baker (and notorious political lawyer John Goodson) for their help in her attaining the high court.

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