Arkansas Supreme Court

For Merit Selection in Arkansas Judicial Races

With the "non-partisan" judicial elections now in our rearview mirror, I believe it's safe to say that it's time for change in how we go about electing judges in Arkansas.  The two recent Supreme Court races saw over $1.6 MILLION in "dark money" flooding our airwaves, telling the citizens that they must elect Judge Dan Kemp and Judge Shawn Womack.  (This number will surely rise as late arriving financial information is crunched)  Congratulations to both of these men, and I hope they stand by their campaign messages, and emember that they are there for the citizens who elected them and not for shady corporate entities who slaughtered their opponents campaigns and reputations to get them there.  Please understand that reasonable people are skeptical of this.  When that much money is spent trashing a candidate for our state's highest court, what other message could be received other than to behave and rule as we want . . . or else.

But it's time to realize that with Citizens United, the toothpaste is out of the tube.  The cows are out of the barn.  Insert whatever cliche you want.  Dark money will flow in from out of state (but lets not kid ourselves, a lot of it actually begins IN state, gets "laundered" by going to dark money outfits out of state, and then comes back) like sludge in every future judicial election.  The attacks were so successful, that the groups behind them should feel nothing but emboldened about their ability to buy influence and judicial races here in Arkansas.

It's time to move to a process, with strict oversight and a fair methodology, to appoint the best and brightest to the bench in Arkansas.  Even Governor Asa Hutchinson agrees.  He called for a move to merit judicial selection in his own campaign post-mortem.  Now, the devil is certainly in the details.  If we truly want to eliminate millions of fraudulent campaign ads and the sale of our courts to big business, true independence, bi-partisan oversight, and input from both the plaintiff's and defense bar is key.  But it's time to stop kidding ourselves that we can have any kind of fair election when the independent judicial election watchdog group, Justice at Stake, found the most recent judicial elections in Arkansas to contain the most vile ads and infested with record levels of outside, "dark" money.  It's time to do something different.  If corporate interests are dead set at influencing the game with their millions, with the intent of limiting your constitutionally protected 7th Amendment rights, it's time to change the game.  

Stay tuned as I put forth my proposed merit selection plan in a few days.

"Dark Money" Special Interest Groups Seek to Buy Arkansas Supreme Court

The Citizens United decision opened the proverbial floodgates for "dark money" to flood elections across our country.  These dark money groups do not play by the same rules as campaigns.  They do not have to disclose their donors or sources of money.  Campaigns have to adhere to strict rules regarding fundraising and disclosures of donors.  

The latest dark money group to invade Arkansas is the Judicial Crisis Network, a shadowy out of state group believed to be funded by the nursing home industry and anti-consumer groups affiliated with the chambers of commerce.  These entities seek to do nothing but add to corporations' bottom lines, often at the expense of you and your loved ones.  This group has recently dumped half a million dollars onto Arkansas airwaves in an attempt to take down Courtney Goodson and Clark Mason.  Why?  To promote good government or "good judgin'?"  No.  Because they want to move in, buy our court and restrict your 7th Amendment right to trial by jury. 

Make no mistake, the movement is afoot to buy our court out from under us.  These groups behind the Judicial Crisis Network do not care about fairness.  They care about money.  And they want to ensure they keep raking it in hand over fist.  And who have they vilified?  Trial lawyers?  The people who help you hold a drunk driver responsible or who helps a family in need in a domestic case.  The Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association has strongly condemned these groups.  Early voting starts today.  As you go to the polls, tell these dark money groups that our courts are not for sale in Arkansas.  You could be the next person who is in need of the justice they were designed to provide.  

Carroll County Wrongful Death Lawsuit May Be Headed to Supreme Court

Gibson Law Firm recently defeated a motion for summary judgment, filed by the Arkansas Municipal League on behalf of the City of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, in a wrongful death lawsuit pending in Carroll County Circuit Court.  The case involves the Estate of Laura Wooldridge, who died as a result of medical negligence committed by multiple parties, including employees of the City of Eureka Springs and Air Evac EMS, Inc.  The City of Eureka Springs has a liability insurance policy, which under established Arkansas law would foreclose any claim of governmental immunity it may have.  However, the mayor and city council members alleged and swore under oath in the city's motion that they had no knowledge of the existence of the policy and that former fire chief Rhys Williams obtained the policy without their knowledge or authorization.  As such, they claimed that the policy should be voided and the city dismissed based on immunity.  To make a long story short, the city attempted to back out of its own coverage in an attempt to be dismissed from a lawsuit.  Who would be harmed by such an act?  The innocent victim, who would have no recourse against the city.

Luckily, the city's assertion was quickly proven to be false.  The policy had been in place for almost 20 years and had been renewed through at least three insurance companies.  In addition, four fire chiefs and multiple mayors had renewed the policy and paid for it.  Who had signed the checks renewing the policy for the past several years?  Mayor Morris Pate, who had previously sworn, under oath and penalty of perjury, that he knew nothing about its existence.  Discovery in this matter should be interesting, to say the least.

Based upon the foregoing, the court properly denied the motion for summary judgment.  This tragic and horrible case has been reported on by the Lovely County Citizen, the local newspaper in Eureka Springs.  Please read page 5 of the attached link.

The City all but threatens to tie the case up in appeals for years instead of allowing a Carroll County jury to hear the case and render a verdict.  It does not even appear to deny its share of liability.  This appears to be more what has become an all too common refrain of "deny, delay, defend" instead of a admission of a wrong that resulted in the ultimate loss.  Laura should be here today, sending her children off to their first day of school.  Instead, her children have no mother to wave goodbye to, and a hole has been placed in her family's heart forever.  

Gibson Law Firm is committed to pursuing wrongdoers and will ultimately obtain justice in this case.  Regardless of how long it takes, or whether the defendants attempt to delay through years of appeals, Gibson Law Firm will remain steadfast in seeking justice for all of those harmed by such a careless act.