Dirty judicial campaigning: A winning target has more to say | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Dirty judicial campaigning: A winning target has more to say

Posted By on Thu, May 24, 2018 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge 'SORE WINNER': Bart Virden.
  • 'SORE WINNER': Bart Virden.
Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Bart Virden of Morrilton, who narrowly survived attack ads by an outside partisan group supporting his opponent for re-election to a nonpartisan seat, doesn't intend to let the matter drop.

He wrote me yesterday after his defeat of Johnnie Copeland of Mountain Home, who enjoyed $80,000 in campaign support from the Republican State Leadership Committee, which reports scant details in Arkansas on its corporate and Republican supporters. Virden won the sprawling district 52.8-47.2.

I might be considered a sore winner, but I am planning to pursue complaints for what I consider violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, if merited. The eight-year term will also give me the freedom to try to help reform this mess…if there is an appetite for it.
Copeland and Virden each raised, at most recent report, less than $50,000 for their campaigns, but the Republican dirty money — which an independent review panel concluded had made inaccurate and misleading claims about Virden's record — almost doubled Copeland's spending. Their ads employed her photo, though she, of course, said she had nothing to do with the ads. She also, significantly, didn't repudiate the spending nor its key allegation — that Virden somehow had coddled criminals by following the rule of law along with a majority of other court members in a case of a criminal defendant who said his right to a fair trial had been impaired by a ruling on court testimony. He remains in prison while the  case is appealed.

As of 10 days before the election, the Republican group had pumped more than $650,000 into Arkansas judicial elections, most of it to trash opponents of David Sterling, another Republican, who made the runoff for Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson's seat.  But it spent $80,000 on TV ads to help Copeland. It has announced it will be active in the Supreme Court runoff in November, as will the even darker Judicial Crisis Network which ordered up more than $1 million in TV ads against Goodson. That amount can be learned from TV station records, but the group isn't required to make timely disclosures on its direct mail expenses or its source of money.

Virden is, of course, correct. The mess needs fixing, preferably by an appointment system that fell short of getting the required supermajority approval from leaders of the Arkansas Bar Association for a suggested ballot initiative. Perhaps this year's gusher of sewer money will change that outlook.

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