In 2014, retired prominent lawyer Sam Perroni established a nonprofit entity called the American Foundation for Judicial Accountability to let lawyers rate the judges before whom they’d practiced.
The idea was to refer the raw data to a neutral third-party administrator to compile and make reports so that some outlet would be available to help us assess our elected judges according to the views that lawyers held of them.
Perroni said he’d long regretted that the Arkansas Bar Association gave up such a rating system years ago.
So he created a website where lawyers can go and both rate the judges according to a questionnaire and offer comments that Perroni says must be kept anonymous – regrettably – in order for lawyers to speak freely.
All of that is to say he sends along a special report that the third-party administrator compiled on the current combatants for chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court – Associate Justice Courtney Goodson and Circuit Judge Dan Kemp.
The findings somehow manage to be — at once — woefully scarce, uneventfully nondescript and relevantly helpful.
The composite rating of Goodson is based on a mere 14 lawyer participants. The rating of Kemp is based on but 12.
Scant though the findings be, I’d summarize this way: For all the criticisms being leveled at Goodson and Kemp in the current environment, these few lawyers declare them fair and competent generally, but with specific shortcomings.
First, Goodson: She got all 4’s, meeting “most of the time,” to questions about whether she was fair and competent and courteous.
But on the question of whether the Supreme Court generally was inclined to try to achieve a desired result rather than render a decision based on facts and controlling law, the lawyers said, by a 54-46 majority, which seems mathematically to say that not all 14 lawyers answered, that it was more interested in a desired result.
As to whether the Supreme Court “often relies on contrived procedural default to avoid deciding difficult issues,” the participating lawyers said by a 58-42 majority that it relies on contrivance.
That’s fairly serious business – unjust, actually — no doubt reflecting the contrived delay in the same-sex marriage case, which Goodson helped manipulate. It falls in line with former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s public claim that this Supreme Court had become “result-oriented,” meaning it figured out what it wanted to rule and then fashioned some reasoning to back into that predetermined outcome.
This Supreme Court has been troubled aplenty and overly politicized. Goodson is, while courteous and competent and fair in her personal manner, one of the main reasons for that.
Some of the anonymous comments about her: “This judge scares me.” “Has helped bring the Arkansas Supreme Court open for legitimate criticism.” “Knowledgeable, thoughtful, prepared and an outstanding jurist.”
Now, as for Kemp, who gets a little different kind of rating system because he is a trial judge and not appellate judge: He gets all 2’s, meaning “hardly ever,” on negative questions such as whether he is unfair, and all 4’s, meaning “most of the time,” on positive questions such as whether he is competent and even-handed and patient and that he issues clear and understandable orders.
But I was struck by two of the anonymous comments, one that Kemp is “out of his depth when constitutional issues arise” and another that he has difficulty “controlling court.”
Whether those are wrong or right, fair or unfair, insightful or sour grapes, the context is relevant.
Appellate law centers on constitutional issues, not procedural ones.
And I will tell you what would prove hard to control for a person lacking command of a local trial court: This danged Supreme Court, where Associate Justices Goodson, Jo Hart and Karen Baker were so contentious and combative that they wrested control of the entire Justice Building from the gentle, civil, courtly and now-late chief justice, Jim Hannah.
So I offer this highly limited data and these regrettably anonymous comments as potentially helpful to voters trying to make an informed decision amid all this on-air nonsense and outrage.
You know who I’m for.