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Arkansas Supreme Court justice announces run for the chief justice position

Baker says her experience in judiciary gives her edge by Will Langhorne | May 6, 2023 at 3:30 a.m.
Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Karen Baker (left) and Chief Justice John Dan Kemp are shown in these 2022 file photos. (Left, courtesy photo; right, NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Karen Baker on Friday announced that she is running for chief justice of the high court next year.

"I believe my experience at every level of the judiciary is unmatched and I am currently the senior-most experienced justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court. I want to continue to put that experience to work for the people of Arkansas," Baker said in a news release announcing her run.

Chief Justice John Dan Kemp, 71, said during a phone interview that he intends to retire at the end of his term. He noted that he would have to relinquish his retirement benefits under state law if he sought reelection.

During an interview, Baker, 59, said she was not aware of anyone else currently running for the chief justice position.

Jon Gilmore, a campaign consultant for Justice Barbara Webb, said during a phone interview that Webb "has been strongly encouraged by a lot of people to run for chief justice." Gilmore said Webb, 66, intends to make a decision in the near future.

If elected, Baker said she hoped to expand efforts to digitize records in district and circuit courts across the state.

"I want to concentrate more on bringing us into the current century," she said. "We've made some advances in the digital filing of records. ... I think we need to work on getting all of Arkansas online for people to search."

If Baker is unsuccessful in her bid for chief justice, she will retain her position as an associate justice on the court. She was reelected to the court last year for an eight-year term.

Baker has served on the Supreme Court since 2011 after being elected to complete the term of Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck, who retired in 2009. Baker was reelected to Position 6 for the first time in 2014.

Baker serves as the high court's liaison to the state Board of Law Examiners, the Continuing Legal Education Board and the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program.

Before her election to the Supreme Court, she sat on the state Court of Appeals and served as a circuit and juvenile judge.

Baker, of Clinton, received a bachelor's degree from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville and a law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law.

Kemp was elected chief justice in 2016.

Judges who are eligible to retire and serve beyond the term in which they turn 70 must forfeit their retirement benefits with the Arkansas Judicial Retirement System under state law. Judges not eligible to retire at age 70 can continue to serve until they complete the term in which they become eligible without losing benefits, however.

It's rare for judges to forfeit their retirement benefits by serving longer than state law allows.

The election for chief justice of the high court will be March 5, according to Baker's news release. The seven justices on the Supreme Court are elected in statewide, nonpartisan elections.

Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Print Headline: Court justice declares she wants top job


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