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Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Bart Virden won re-election Tuesday over first-time political candidate Johnnie Copeland, based on complete but unofficial returns in the state's only competitive appeals court race.

Virden, 58, of Morrilton, is in the final year of his first term on the court. The 40-year-old Copeland is a private-practice attorney in Mountain Home who also works part time as a prosecutor and district judge.

With 696 of 696 precincts reporting, unofficial returns were:

Virden 31,281

Copeland 27,956

[ELECTIONS COVERAGE: Find all results + stories]

"If the numbers that we have are correct, it would be hard for her to overcome," said Virden, who added that he had not heard from Copeland.

Calls to Copeland's cellphone went straight to voice mail on election night.

The 18-county area covered by District 2, Position 1, of the Court of Appeals includes most of north-central Arkansas and the Ozarks, stretching down to cover Conway.

Recent races in the district have gone quietly with unopposed candidates, but this year the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee spent $80,000 on ads attacking Virden and urging support of Copeland.

After the ads started airing, Copeland said she was "surprised" to see them, but didn't denounce the messages, which said, "Violent convicts pray for judges like Bart Virden."

"Up until this week I felt generally good," said Virden, referring to the effect of the ads.

The attack ads dealt with the case of Edward Rogers, a North Little Rock man who was convicted in 2016 of the rape of three teenagers. Rogers' conviction was overturned on appeal last year, with Virden writing the opinion.

The ad failed to mention that Virden was part of a 4-2 majority of appellate judges who reached the decision, or that Rogers remains in prison while prosecutors seek to retry the case.

Asked about the ad last week, the Pulaski County prosecutor in charge of Rogers' case, Larry Jegley, called it "nonsense ... totally false."

"Occasional reversals ... are part of the process," Jegley said.

In tax filings earlier this year, the Republican State Leadership Committee reported receiving a $100,000 donation from Walmart. The group has also run ads in this year's Arkansas Supreme Court race.

Both Virden and Copeland were roughly on par with each other in terms of their campaign spending.

Boosted by $12,000 she lent to her campaign, Copeland reported spending $41,129, mostly on mailers and newspaper ads.

Virden received more donations from Arkansas attorneys than Copeland, and he was able to run TV, radio and newspaper ads. He spent $49,448, according to the most recent campaign-finance reports.

Elsewhere, Appellate Judge Robert Gladwin in District 3 was unopposed in his re-election bid.

Metro on 05/23/2018

Print Headline: Virden prevails in appeals court race

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