Six more candidates have come forward to seek judgeships that will come open in the 6th Judicial Circuit next year, mainly due to a state law that punishes judges who are elected to office after turning 70 by stripping them of their retirement benefits.
The pending vacancies in the 6th Circuit serving Pulaski and Perry counties would represent the largest turnover in the circuit since the 2002 elections.
The newest round of announcements from lawyers who say they plan to file for office in the 6th Judicial Circuit are:
• LaTonya Austin, 43, of Sherwood. She is a former prosecutor and public defender now in private practice. A former city of Little Rock staff attorney, Austin began her legal career writing appellate briefs and clerking in the attorney general's office. She specializes in family law, civil litigation and criminal defense. She has also served numerous times as a special circuit judge. Last year, she was one of four candidates for Little Rock district judge but missed getting into the runoff race by fewer than 300 votes. The election was won by Melanie Martin in November.
• Andrew "Andy" Ballard, 38, of North Little Rock. He would like to replace the retiring Judge Vann Smith. Primarily specializing in family law, Ballard said he has represented children, parents and grandparents on a variety of issues including custody, visitation, child support, guardianship, adoption and dependency/neglect. Ballard has presented training programs in family law on behalf the Arkansas Office of the Courts and the Arkansas and Pulaski County Bar Associations. He is the the author of the latest edition of the Arkansas Practice Series: Family Law and Practice, published by Thompson Reuters, after co-writing a previous version.
• Thomas "Tom" Barron, 60, of Little Rock. He is also seeking Smith's position. A third-generation lawyer, Barron was in practice with his father, John "Jay" Barron Jr., for 25 years while his grandfather John "Jack" W. Barron was a partner in the firm that became the nationally known Rose Law Firm. In a partnership now, Tom Barron focuses mainly on civil litigation but has experience in criminal defense, domestic relations, business disputes and product liability. He's served several times as a special circuit judge in Pulaski County.
• Tjuana Byrd, 51, of Sherwood. She has spent 15 years in juvenile court and wants to fill the opening created by the retirement of Judge Wiley Branton Jr. A longtime public defender who also has a practice in family law and juvenile issues, Byrd is president of the Women's Foundation of Arkansas and a member of the Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force by appointment of the governor.
• Scott Richardson, 47, of Little Rock, a law partner of former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel in the firm the men formed in 2015 with a third partner after McDaniel left the post after two terms in office. He is seeking to replace the retiring Judge Chris Piazza. Richardson spent nine years in the attorney general's office after being hired by Mike Beebe when Beebe was attorney general. Richardson rose to be senior assistant attorney general under McDaniel, a position where he was lead counsel for the state in the Little Rock desegregation case and helped negotiate an end to the state's involvement in 2013. As co-counsel for the state in the Lake View School District case in 2007, he helped resolve the case after 15 years of litigation.
• Lott Rolfe IV, 46, of Maumelle. He is seeking the seat opened by the retirement of Judge Joyce Williams Warren. Rolfe, a former Maumelle City Council member and city of Little Rock staff attorney, runs his own multi-service law firm and has a part-time position with the Public Defender Commission. He also served on the state Child Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence Commission as an appointee of Gov. Mike Beebe.
Also in the circuit, Judge Tim Fox, who was first elected in 2003, said he will seek his fourth six-year term.
They bring the total to 14 potential candidates in the district, so far. Seven announced plans to run earlier.
There are 17 judicial divisions in the district.
In Lonoke County, the 23rd Judicial Circuit, Judge Barbara Elmore said she will seek re-election. Elmore was appointed to the bench in 2007 when the Legislature created three new judgeships. She was elected to her first full term in a contested 2008 race but re-elected in 2014 without opposition.
In the Delta, Laurie Bridewell, a former Chicot County district judge and Lake City attorney, said that she will be seeking the seat in the 10th Judicial Circuit that will come open with the pending retirement of Circuit Judge Kenny Johnson of Warren. The circuit has five judges and is composed of Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Desha and Drew counties.
Judicial candidates must be U.S. citizens and Arkansas residents who are registered voters and who been licensed to practice law for at least the past six years. They must live in the circuit they will represent.
Candidates can announce their intentions to seek a judgeship and set up a campaign committee a year before the election, which will be held March 3, 2020. But they cannot start asking for or accepting contributions until six months before the election, which is Sept. 5.
The filing fee to get on the ballot is $6,724 -- 4 percent of the position's annual $168,096 salary -- or candidates can petition to be added by collecting signatures of 3 percent of qualified voters within the circuit or 2,000 voters, whichever is greater.
The "forfeiture provision" of the judicial retirement system, codified under Arkansas Code 24-8-201, forces judges who are 70 when they are elected to give up the benefits they have accrued and the payments they have made into the system.
Judges who turn 70 while in office can finish their term without losing their benefits. Judges are required to pay 5 percent to 6 percent of their salaries into the program. The state also contributes an amount equal to 12 percent of the annual judicial payroll to the program.
Circuit judges are vested in their retirement in eight years and are eligible for full retirement benefits after 25 years of service, with the potential to receive up to 80 percent of their $168,096 salaries. Judges are elected for six-year terms.
Metro on 04/08/2019
Print Headline: Six more lawyers seeking seats on bench in 6th Judicial Circuit