Circuit Judge Dan Kemp of Mountain View has moved out from behind his daughter.
He got in touch this morning to account for himself in regard to the charges on the Blue Hog blog from the Courtney Goodson-supporting Sheffield Nelson.
The charge: That Judge Kemp accepted a lenient misdemeanor plea deal for the drug-felony-charged daughter of local Mountain View banker-politico Jim Hinkle, and then called Hinkle and invoked the daughter’s case in asking Hinkle for money to support Kemp’s race against Goodson for chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Here is Kemp’s scenario:
Hinkle’s 42-year-old eldest daughter got arrested on drug charges in late October 2014. In November 2014, Kemp signed off on an agreement between the prosecutor and the defense attorney to continue the case while the daughter went to rehab.
A year later, last November, days after Kemp had announced as a candidate for chief justice against Goodson, the prosecutor brought the matter before the court because the rehab had been completed.
The plea arrangement for a misdemeanor conviction of driving while intoxicated by drugs was based on a first offense, which Kemp said he remembered asking the deputy prosecutor to confirm. That was based on what was in the file regarding the license number check from the arrest the year before, which reflected that the Arkansas Crime Information Center report came back showing no felonies or outstanding warrants.
We need to fix that, Kemp said. He’s seen it happen elsewhere – meaning an inaccurate ACIC report.
Anyway, the case was ended – meaning the plea negotiation accepted – last Nov. 10.
Kemp says he and his wife came to Little Rock that evening to fly out for a long-planned vacation the next morning, and returned on the 20th, and that the earliest he could have called Hinkle was Nov. 21.
He has some notes from that day seeming to reflect South Arkansas contacts that either Hinkle or Hinkle’s wife gave him.
It is customary for judge candidates to call well-connected people to ask for help and to seek referrals to people who might help them in other parts of the state.
But not to ask for money. A judge candidate is not to do that directly.
Kemp said he called Hinkle to seek his campaign help, but that he of course knew better than to ask for money, for that was forbidden, and that he most certainly did not do so.
He said he was confident Hinkle would say the same. He said he’d been told Hinkle was on vacation in Hawaii. I’ve been unable to reach Hinkle.
Nelson’s account to the Blue Hog blog is that Hinkle called him “shocked and dismayed” that Kemp had invoked his daughter’s case and asked for campaign money.
Kemp said the daughter’s case came up in that conversation, yes, but in this way: He told Hinkle the case was settled, as Hinkle already knew, and that the only context he was intending to apply was that he was free to ask for Hinkle’s campaign help without that matter pending.
In other words, it’s over, it’s no longer a conflict in our discussion about your helping me in this campaign.
Should Kemp have recused from the daughter’s plea arrangement disposition since he was running for the Supreme Court by that time and would be seeking the father’s support?
“I didn’t see any reason. It was carried over from a year before. I know the Hinkles, of course, but I know the families of a lot of people who come through court. Now, I did recuse from a case – in August, I think – when the case of a child of the woman who does my taxes came through. But that was because of a direct business relationship, which didn’t exist here.”
Should he not have made the subsequent call to Hinkle and invoked the case in any context seeking support?
“It’s what candidates do. You ask people to support you. You don’t ask for money, though, and I didn’t.”
Finally, Kemp reminded me that, in a phone conversation we had last November, he declared himself fairly certain the Goodson forces would find something about which to launch a last-minute smear, and that he told me at that time: “They can damage my reputation. But they can’t damage my character.”
That’s all I have for now. Maybe Hinkle will ring in from Hawaii.
Or maybe the Blue Hog will now post the transcript of the Kemp-Hinkle conversation.