3 candidates vying to replace retiring Arkansas Court of Appeals judge

Two local attorneys and a circuit court judge are vying in the March 5 election to replace longtime Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Rita Gruber, 73, who is retiring at the end of this year when her current term expires after 16 years on the appeals court bench.

Circuit Judge Casey Tucker and attorneys Pam Hathaway and Molly McNulty seek to replace Gruber, who currently holds the District 6, Position 1 seat on the court that includes Pulaski, Perry and Saline counties.

The nonpartisan general election will be the same day as the preferential primary election for partisan candidates.

Early voting starts Tuesday. Early voting hours will be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, and March 2. Early voting ends at 5 p.m. March 4.

If no one receives a majority of the vote in the Court of Appeals race, the top two finishers will face off again in a runoff election Nov. 5, the same day as the general election.

Tucker, 51, currently serves as circuit judge for the Sixth Judicial District covering Pulaski and Perry counties. She was elected to that position in 2020 after having been in private practice as an attorney since receiving her juris doctorate from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1997. Tucker also holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration, which she was awarded in 1994 from the University of Arkansas.

Born in Hot Springs, Tucker joined the Little Rock law firm of Barron and Tucker upon graduation in 1997 and two years later was made a partner of the firm. Her professional memberships include the American Bar Association, the Pulaski County Bar Association, the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association and the American Association for Justice.

“I’ve enjoyed my time as a circuit judge and I know I’ve made a difference in my community,” Tucker said of her current position.

Tucker said her desire is to continue her service to the judiciary at the next level. She said her experience as a trial court judge has prepared her to move up to the Court of Appeals and has provided her a level of experience that she contends her opponents lack.

“I’m the only candidate who has rendered verdicts in the types of cases that come before the Court of Appeals,” Tucker said. “As a circuit judge, when decisions made at my level are appealed they go to the Court of Appeals, and I’m the only candidate who has had to make tough decisions in those types of cases.”

Tucker said she gained a wide variety of experience representing clients in civil litigation during her 23 years in private practice.

“I fought for verdicts all over the state for my clients,” she said. “I fought to have those verdicts upheld before the Court of Appeals, and I’ve even argued before the Court of Appeals.

“I do think my experience makes me uniquely qualified.”

Pam Hathaway, 56, a native of Lonoke, joined the Arkansas Bar Association in 1992 following her graduation from the UALR Bowen School of Law and began her legal career with the Little Rock firm of Friday, Eldridge & Clark before working on her own as a solo practitioner.

Hathaway has a combined 30 years experience in private practice and as a law clerk in the Arkansas appellate courts, clerking for Justice Don Corbin on the Arkansas Supreme Court and for Court of Appeals judges John B. Robbins, Cliff Hoofman, Kenneth Hixson and Mark Klappenbach. Among her professional associations, Hathaway is a member of the Pulaski County and Arkansas bar associations, the Arkansas Association of Women Lawyers and is a board member of Home for Healing, a local nonprofit that provides affordable lodging for adult and teenage cancer patients, parents of infants in the neonatal intensive care unit, and family members with a loved one in the ICU.

Hathaway said her experience in Arkansas legal circles has prepared her for the Court of Appeals position.

“My 30 years of diverse legal work as an Arkansas attorney has prepared me for this judgeship,” she said. “I understand the importance of hard work and perseverance. I put myself through college and law school. I faced and defeated breast cancer and I was humbled to be named Komen Arkansas’ 2013 Honorary Survivor.”

Hathaway said her variety of legal experience over the past 30 years provides her with the perspective needed to render decisions at the appellate level.

“Every litigant deserves a fair and impartial judge who understands that each and every case can be life changing,” she said. “I have worked on literally thousands of appeals that have come before the Arkansas Court of Appeals and I believe I have the knowledge and judicial temperament for this judgeship.”

McNulty, 39, is a Little Rock native and a graduate of Davidson College in Davidson, N.C. She has a master’s of public service from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and a juris doctorate from the UALR Bowen School of Law.

Since 2015, McNulty has served as a law clerk for Judge Raymond Abramson on the Arkansas Court of Appeals, where she said she has gained experience by writing hundreds of draft opinions and as an adviser on complex legal issues.

McNulty began her legal career as a law clerk for U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe Volpe for the Eastern District of Arkansas and has served as an adjunct professor at the UALR Bowen School of Law. She is a member of the board of trustees for the Arkansas Bar Association, chair of the Leadership Greater Little Rock Alumni Board, and sits on the boards of Camp Aldersgate, the Arkansas Rep and the Historic Arkansas Museum Foundation.

“I still believe that public service is a noble calling,” McNulty said of her decision to run for the Court of Appeals position. “I grew up in a family where hard work and giving back were not only encouraged but were expected, and I’m committed to contributing to our community.”

McNulty said her decade of service as a law clerk on the Court of Appeals has provided her with an in-depth look at the operations of the court and an understanding of the court’s critical functions, which she said uniquely qualify her for the position.

“My upbringing, education and extensive experience combined with my unwavering faith and commitment to public service guarantee that I approach the responsibilities of the court with the highest integrity and impartiality, and my community involvement has provided me with an understanding of the people of our great state and an appreciation of the profound impact that Court of Appeals decisions have on all of our lives.”

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