The race for an open seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court that came into play due to last year’s death of a justice is a contest between a Texarkana-based circuit judge and a justice who is a already a 12-year veteran of the state’s highest court.
Justice Robin Wynne of Fordyce, a former Arkansas Court of Appeals judge, died in June at age 70, six months into his second term as the Position 2 justice, which he had won after a run-off. A gubernatorial appointee, Cody Hiland, has held the post since July. The Supreme Court has seven justices who serve eight-year terms.
Voters will go to the polls on March 5 to choose a successor who will serve out the rest of Wynne’s term, which pays $187,961 annually. Arkansas’ judicial elections are non-partisan but are held simultaneously with the state’s political primaries. Early voting begins Tuesday.
Justice Courtney Rae Hudson of Fayetteville and Judge Carlton D. Jones of the Eighth South Judicial Circuit of Lafayette and Miller counties are seeking the seat. Hudson’s campaign can be reached at Facebook.com/CourtneyforAR and Instagram.com/CourtneyforAR while Jones’ campaign sites are www.judgecarltonjones.com and www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61553972042401
Jones, 62, of Texarkana, who’s spent the past 35 years as a prosecutor and judge, said he sees high court as the next step in his ongoing commitment to public service.
“To be elected provides an opportunity to positively affect the development of the law in our state and the fair and orderly administration of justice in our state,” Jones said. “As a member of the Supreme Court, I would have the opportunity to ensure that the law of the state of Arkansas is fairly and properly applied to each person who has come into the courts of our state seeking a fair resolution of his or her case.”
Hudson, who first took the bench in 2008 as an Arkansas Court of Appeals judge representing Washington, Benton, Johnson, Franklin, Madison, Carroll, and Crawford counties, said her interest in serving on the high court grew out of a singular experience in childhood, one that she hopes to duplicate for everyone who comes to court.
“When I was six years old, a good judge allowed my stepfather to legally adopt me. I was given a new last name, a complete family, and a fresh start,” said Hudson, who unsuccessfully ran for chief justice in 2016. “I know firsthand the impact of a good judge, and in turn, I want to ensure that every litigant benefits from the goodness of the law. I think about this every time I put on my robe.
When Hudson announced her intentions to pursue the Position 2 seat, she was three years into her second Position 3 term. Hudson, 52, said she was interested in the Position 2 seat because it would allow her to serve a few more years on the court before reaching 70, the age when circuit and higher judges are generally required to leave the bench or forfeit retirement benefits. She’ll remain the Position 3 justice if she does not win.
Hudson, one of the high court’s longest-serving members, said her experience as a member of the state’s highest court makes her the better candidate for the job.
“The job of a Supreme Court justice is too important to wait for ‘on the job’ training to occur,” she said, stating that all of her work is a matter of public record available on the courts web site, www.arcourts.gov. “The Rule of Law demands predictability and consistency. I can continue to provide that with my track record of upholding the Constitution and doing this very job. People deserve to know what they are getting in a Supreme Court justice. I am the known commodity with a common sense, balanced approach to the law.
Jones said he’ll bring a new voice to the high court, stating that Hudson will continue as a justice no matter the outcome of the race.
“Whether successful in this endeavor, or not, my opponent remains on the court. Her candidacy adds nothing to the composition of the court – it only adds to her retirement benefits,” he said. “I would bring a new perspective to the bench.”
Jones, a graduate of the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas School of Law, said he’ll bring the experience of an educator to the court, citing his longtime work as an instructor for attorneys for the Arkansas Bar Association and other local bar associations, as well as teaching judges at the National Judicial College. He said he’ll also bring a more practical background to the high court after having been a prosecutor trying cases and a circuit judge deciding them.
“Judges of the Arkansas Supreme Court review, in many instances, decisions of circuit court judges. As a circuit court judge, I have presided over many hearings and trials, and the experience obtained in these proceedings is invaluable in assisting a judge on the Supreme Court to understand the pressures in the decision-making of the trial court judges,” he said.
Jones attributes a sense of integrity, instilled as a child by his parents and neighbors, with his success as a judge. He said judges can be taught almost everything they need to know to perform their job, “but without personal integrity, all the training is of no use.
A judge must see what is right under the law, and do what is right under the law – regardless of the outcome in a case,” he said. “In many instances, I am called upon to make difficult decisions affecting the lives of litigants. In the instances wherein difficult decisions are made, you must display and rely upon your oath and apply the law.”
Asked what single personal attribute has made Hudson a successful justice, she said she’s always made it her priority to try and truly hear what others are saying.
“I am an active listener. This is a critical attribute for a judge to possess because it allows a judge to absorb all of the information surrounding a particular case from both parties,” she said. “Litigants deserve to have a fair and impartial jurist who does not prejudge a case and who listens intently to discern the truth.”
Professionally, Hudson, a graduate of the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas School of Law, said her greatest accomplishments have come through her 15 years of service on Arkansas’ highest courts where she was the youngest justice ever elected at age 38 and the first woman to win a contested race for justice.
Jones said he considers his greatest professional accomplishments to include his hiring as a deputy prosecutor in December 1989, the first African American to hold that job in the circuit.
Next would be 21 years later when he was elected prosecuting attorney for the circuit in May 2010, he said. Jones is believed to be the first Black person in Arkansas to be elected to the post. He said he’s also proud to have been elected circuit judge in November 2014 as an uncontested candidate.