The vaunted Blue Hog blogger, an accomplished investigative dynamo who tells me Courtney Goodson was always nice to him when he worked at the Arkansas Supreme Court, has made two attacks on Goodson’s rival for chief justice, Circuit Judge Dan Kemp, the second post seeking to lend perspective to the first.
And now he’s filed a formal complaint with the Judicial Review agency seeking to get Kemp sanctioned.
Here’s the Blue Hog’s charge, summarized: Judge Kemp has a good longtime friend there in his hometown, Mountain View. One of the friend’s daughters faced a drug charge. The prosecutor, as is customary, negotiated a plea to settle the charge. Kemp accepted it. A short while later, the old friend made a campaign contribution to Kemp.
Kemp put out a statement that the prosecutor did the deal and he accepted it and that there was nothing irregular. Happens all the time.
And Kemp pointed out that judge candidates don’t raise their own campaign money and are supposed to try to the extent possible to remain unaware of such things.
The Blue Hog first seemed to intimate a ruling for pay, but came back in the perspective-lending follow-up to say the point was not that. Instead it was, he said, that Kemp should have recused from the matter because of the personal association and a judge’s obligation to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
And the Blue Hog added that Kemp did not tell the truth that the matter was wholly regular because, in fact, the friend’s daughter had a previous criminal record from Faulkner County.
So Kemp responded again in a statement issued by his daughter and campaign manager, who, it appears, is a friend of the defendant’s sister. He said the prosecutor negotiated the deal long before he became a Supreme Court candidate. He dismissed the entire matter as a political hit.
The prosecutor says he did the deal, and that the records data on which the criminal justice system relies showed no previous record for the young woman.
I think three things:
One is that a judge might ought to recuse when presented even with something perfunctory like this affecting a good friend’s daughter, but that a three-decade judge in a town the size of Mountain View is going to be recusing a hell of a lot.
The second is that the plea deal seems to have reached a just disposition of the charge.
The third is that I am simply unpersuaded that this was anything other than routine and that anything about it calls seriously into question the generally stellar reputation of Kemp. I simply do not believe or suspect that he rubber-stamped the deal because of a personal relationship. And I am certain he wasn’t trading for a campaign contribution, which the good friend was going to give him anyway.
I credit the Blue Hog with fair comment, specifically fairer on the second post.
For full perspective, I must relate that I lack any regard for Goodson – or the class-action tactics of her politically hyperactive husband — and am on record in my column favoring Kemp primarily on the basis of the integrity I do not believe to be substantially eroded in this matter.
Oh, and another thing: Let’s put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to stop this damnable election of appellate judges. Vote for a governor you trust to make solid nominations. Actually, I trust Asa Hutchinson in this regard. He’s a good and serious lawyer. He’s too conservative for my personal taste, but, then, so is everybody. Certainly Kemp.