Bart Hester's new judgeship bill includes a ringer in Mary Bentley's Perry County | Arkansas Blog

Friday, March 15, 2019

Bart Hester's new judgeship bill includes a ringer in Mary Bentley's Perry County

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2019 at 7:47 AM

PERRY PLOY: Bart Hester has a curious wrinkle in a bill to create new judgeships.
  • PERRY PLOY: Bart Hester has a curious wrinkle in a bill to create new judgeships.
Sen. Bart Hester has introduced legislation to create six new circuit judgeships, but look closely, there's some trickery afoot.

Hester would create one more judgeship than has been recommended by the Arkansas Judicial Council to address growing needs in several areas, particularly Hester's home Benton County. I've written extensively about the intrigue previously, on account of former Republican senator and now Supreme Court Justice Shawn Womack's effort to hijack the process and create new judgeships by taking some away from certain locations, including Pulaski County. New judgeships cost money in new judicial salaries, plus support costs. Womack figured he was doing the legislature a favor by holding down costs. Other judges rose up against the idea.

So now comes Hester with SIX judgeships? And one is for the Sixth Judicial District, which covers Pulaski and Perry counties? Its judges have expressed no need for a new judgeship, though they have made it clear they wanted to keep the ones they have. (My wife retired from the Pulaski bench six years ago and played no role in last year's deliberations on this issue.)

But wait. Hester's bill provides that the new judgeship would be filled by someone who lives in Perry County, population 10,000 and home to a bare handful of lawyers. Judges from Little Rock take turns holding court in Perry County, four or five days a month.

I'm guessing Hester's Perry ploy ties in with an earlier filing by state Rep. Mary Bentley, who lives in Perry County, to amend the Constitution as it pertains to the residency of circuit court judges. You get the idea Bentley wants a home-grown judge in Perry County (which is by no means the only county in Arkansas served by judges who live in other counties.)

We'll see what shakes out. I don't think it will end with a new judgeship in the Sixth District. More likely to emerge is a "compromise" to shear a judge off the existing roster in Pulaski, where voters with Democratic tendencies consistently return election results unpopular with the ruling Republican majority. Special legislation giving Perry County alone among many lightly populated rural counties its own resident circuit judge would seem an unlikely outcome, but with this legislature, who knows?

Here's a thought: Give Perry County to the judicial district based in Faulkner County, well-stocked with judges helped into office by Gilbert Baker, Michael Morton and them.

UPDATE: Hmmm. Another source says this bill is more about Sen. Jason Rapert than Mary Bentley. He reportedly would like to see Perry in the Faulkner judicial district (with Searcy and Van Buren counties), less on account of judgeships than getting a different prosecutor over Perry County, where he has interests. This bill wouldn't accomplish that as written but in future horse trading???? Also in the mix: The current district judge in Perry County, Andy Gill, is planning a race for a circuit court judgeship to be open on the ballot in 2020 with expected retirement of Judge Mary McGowan.

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