Judges are non-partisan? Not David Sterling | Arkansas Blog

Monday, October 1, 2018

Judges are non-partisan? Not David Sterling

Posted By on Mon, Oct 1, 2018 at 7:50 AM

A note on the heavy influence of partisan politics in David Sterling's race to unseat Associate Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson, a position that is officially non-partisan. Sterling is running as a Republican, overtly and frequently.

Sterling, who made an unsuccessful race as a Republican for attorney general and now is nominally general counsel at Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's Department of Human Services (his heavy campaigning has to require some leave time from the $124,000 job), is branding himself as a Republican candidate.

His social media accounts, such as Twitter, show him making a nearly unbroken series of appearances at Republican functions.

Better still as an indication of who he'll favor on the bench is the outside money being spent to support him.

In the primary, he benefitted from $744,997 spent by the Republican State Leadership Committee Judicial Fairness Initiative. The filings show the money was spent for TV ads in support of Sterling. No further filings are on record for the runoff, but I'll keep watch. If the money emerges, the first filing will be close to the election.

According to Secretary of State Mark Martin's online financial disclosure website (not wholly reliable), the Republican group is far and away the biggest single independent spender so far in Arkansas elections this year.  Independent committee's are unfettered by limits placed on campaign committees.

The judicial initiative began in 2014 and has spent huge sums around the country to elect state court judges — the better to protect state legislation produced by Republican legislatures. Who contributes the money? You won't find that information in specific fashion on file in Arkansas. The Judicial Initiative's source of money for the Sterling race is the Republican State Leadership Committee, which writer Jane Mayer has described as a catchall for corporate contributions. It's a 527 organization, which means there are no limits on contributions to it. It files occasional reports with the IRS, but not in a fashion useful to individual races such as the one in Arkansas. Its biggest contributors in 2016 were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a couple of tobacco companies and a Las Vegas casino, according to opensecrets.org.

Sterling is a crucial court vote for Republicans. Justice Shawn Womack is a former Republican state senator and remains intensely political with frequent legislative lobbying through Republican colleagues. Justice Rhonda Wood has used former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee in her political campaigns as a robocaller and also made the rounds of Republican committee meetings to campaign. Justice Jo Hart won her seat on the bench with big support from Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and family (Rutledge's father is an aide to Hutchinson). A Sterling win gives the court a 4-3 split in favor of people with well-known Republican ties.

Would the Republicans who insist Judge Wendell Griffen is unfit to hear death penalty cases based on his religious beliefs in opposition to the death penalty suggest that some of these jurists might have a problem hearing cases involving the Democratic Party or people identified as Democrats?

Side note, according to the state's online portal, Sterling has outraised Goodson $120,000 to $90,000 so far.

Sterling's top contributors? From the website:

Stephens, Jack T.
Stephens, Angie
Murphy, Madison
Stephens, Warren
Morton, Michael

Enough said.

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