With a full third of the 17 judges of the 6th Judicial Circuit being forced into retirement next year, voters in Perry and Pulaski counties can expect at least six contested judicial races, if all of the people who have announced plans to run follow through.
Filing for the March 3 election begins on Sept. 5 -- the first day candidates can start accepting campaign contributions -- six months ahead of the contest. Act 545 of the current General Assembly -- sponsored by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, and state Rep. Grant Hodges, R-Rogers -- moved the race and the traditional May primaries to March in presidential election years. It was signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson on March 21.
Announcing their intentions last week to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to run for a circuit judge post were Frank Spain of Monticello, a deputy prosecutor for 18 years in the 10th Judicial prosecuting attorney's office; and Johnnie A. Copeland of Mountain Home, a deputy prosecutor in the 14th Judicial Circuit of Baxter, Boone, Marion and Newton counties, who also has a private practice.
Copeland, 41, a former Fulton County district judge -- a position she held by gubernatorial appointment -- handles misdemeanor criminal cases in Baxter County and criminal juvenile cases in Marion and Baxter counties. She is seeking the position now held by 14th Circuit Division 4 Circuit Judge Gordon Webb, who is retiring.
The 47-year-old Spain, who has prosecuted more than 2,800 felony cases, including capital murder, cited his extensive jury trial experience in seeking the Division 2 judgeship now held by the retiring Kenny Johnson of Warren in the 10th Circuit of Ashley, Bradley, Chicot and Drew counties. Laurie Bridewell of Lake City has also said she will run for Johnson's seat.
For the Little Rock-based 6th Circuit, Suzanne Ritter Lumpkin is the most recent lawyer to announce her plans to seek one of the six seats.
The 56-year-old resident has served as a special circuit judge in juvenile court and is a former adjunct assistant professor in medical ethics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She said she will seek the retiring Wiley Branton's seat.
Attorney Tjuana Byrd has also said she'll run for Branton's position next year. Branton has been a juvenile court judge since being elected in 1993. Under state law, circuit judges who run for office after turning 70 must give up their retirement benefits.
The other departing judges and the announced candidates are:
• Mary McGowan, elected 1990; LaTonya Austin and Andy Gill.
• Richard Moore, elected 2003; Amy Dunn Johnson and Jay Shue.
• Chris Piazza, elected 1990; Hugh Finkelstein and Scott Richardson.
• Vann Smith, elected 1988; Andrew Ballard, Tom Barron, Shawn Johnson and Jim Wyatt.
• Joyce Warren, elected 1988; Lott Rolfe IV and Jonathan Warren.
Judges earn $168,096 per year and are elected for six-year terms. The filing fee to get on the ballot is $6,528 -- 4 percent of the position's annual 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.
Metro on 04/15/2019
CORRECTION: Suzanne Ritter Lumpkin, 56, of Little Rock has served as a special circuit judge in juvenile court and is a former adjunct assistant professor in medical ethics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She is a Little Rock attorney who is running for a judgeship in the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Perry and Pulaski Counties in 2020. Some of her qualifications for office were misstated in an earlier version of this article.
Print Headline: Arkansas 6th Circuit contests shaping up