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Arkansas Supreme Court justice announces bid for chief justice position

Highlights 17-year service as conservative nonactivist by Will Langhorne | May 11, 2023 at 3:56 a.m.
Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood files for reelection during the second day of filing for the 2022 campaign cycle in this Feb. 23, 2022 file photo. At right is her husband, Dr. Michael Wood. Justice Rhonda Wood announced Wednesday, May 10, 2023 that she would run for the chief justice post in 2024. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood announced Wednesday she will run for chief justice of the high court next year.

"Now in my seventeenth year on the bench, I have a proven track record of making tough decisions in the face of immense pressure and always letting the constitution and the rule of law be my guide," Wood said in a statement announcing her candidacy. "I have always understood that Arkansas values a justice that doesn't legislate from the bench."

Wood, 53, is the second justice to officially throw her hat in the ring for the top seat on the high court. Justice Karen Baker, 59, announced her candidacy Friday.

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

Jon Gilmore, a campaign consultant for Justice Barbara Webb, 66, said during a phone interview Wednesday that Webb "is still prayerfully considering whether or not she will enter the race."

"She is still receiving encouragement from friends and supporters and will make a decision in the near future," he said.

Gilmore said Wood's announcement does not affect Webb's decision-making process on whether to enter the race.

Wood was first elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2014 and was reelected to Position 7 for an eight-year term last year. Before joining the high court, she sat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals and served as a circuit judge.

"I was first appointed to the trial bench by then Governor Mike Huckabee and through four elections by the people of Arkansas, I have consistently pledged to follow the rule of law and be a conservative, nonactivist jurist," Wood said in her statement.

In the coming months, Wood will roll out the initiatives she would prioritize if elected chief justice.

If Wood is unsuccessful in her bid for chief justice, she will retain her position as an associate justice on the court.

Wood has served on almost 10 Judicial Council committees, many of which she has chaired. She was a nine-year delegate to the Arkansas Bar Association and served for several years on the American Bar Association Appellate Judicial Education Committee, according to her statement.

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 seven justices on the Supreme Court are elected in statewide, nonpartisan elections.

Print Headline: Wood will seek chief justice spot on state high court


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