“There’s no doubt about it,” Corbin said.
He said his campaign has taken a number of steps as a result of the calls: It has notified the state Ethics Commission it is not responsible for the calls, as well as the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission. It has called on U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins to investigate possible violations of federal law (the phone messages do not identify the originator of the call as the campaign contends Federal Trade Commission Rules require). It has asked prosecuting attorneys to investigate. It has also asked the attorney general’s office to investigate. Corbin said he won't drop the matter no matter how the election next week turns out.
(Has anyone tried Star-69 when they've received these calls?)
“They’re awful,” Corbin said. The calls, to home and cell phones, carry various messages, including that Corbin supports property rights, supports not releasing criminals on technicalities and that he is a family man. “One says I have six children. I have five,” Corbin said.
So what's so bad about all that? People report getting multiple calls at all hours of the day and Corbin says this amounts to harassment. He said similar mass phone calling turned up in Justice Jim Hannah’s race two years ago for chief justice of the state Supreme Court, but they occurred late in the campaign. (We said originally that Hannah had decided to ignore the calls. He called us later in the day and said he'd also reported the calls to the attorney general, but investigators had no luck running down the source. He said the approach was similar. Messages were positive toward Hannah, but one person got as many as 27 calls at all hours and it left voters unhappy with Hannah. He returned every unhappy call he and his campaign received.)
Though the messages may seem positive to many, Corbin said they make it appear that he’s breaking judicial ethics code by having his campaign express opinions on issues – property rights and criminal cases – that could come before him.
“We’re panicking because the calls are all over the state,” Corbin said. “We have people cussing me out. saying they were going to support me anad now saying they’re not and they have a large family and they’re all going to vote against me, too.”
As a practical matter, the calls don't seem likely to be easy to trace. Numerous Internet providers sell automated phone services at a per-call rate. Finding which call service was behind such calls, if that's the case, and then reaching the customer (who also might have another layer of identity protection) could be difficult.
Corbin faces an election challenge next week from Maumelle District Judge Roger Harrod, who’s come under editorial fire for expressing opinions on Supreme Court action in the Lake View school finance case.
Having Corbin branded as talkative on court issues could tend to help Harrod, though that's a fairly convoluted theory to explain such calls. Having an opponent making everybody in the state mad with multiple phone calls at dinner time couldn’t hurt him either. But, again, that's just another theory.
We’ve left messages for Harrod. We presume he’ll say his campaign has no connection with these calls either. Perhaps it’s merely an independent admirer of Donald Corbin and his judicial philosophy doing what he thinks is a good deed, unaware of legal requirements on campaign messasges of this sort. Somehow, we doubt it’s that simple.
After the jump, a copy of the Corbin campaign letter to the Ethics Commission.
Arkansas Ethics Commission
P.O. Box 1917
Little Rock, AR 72203-1917
May 16, 2006
Dear Mr. Sloan,
Last night members of our committee and campaign staff became aware that automated calls had been made soliciting votes for Justice Corbin. The calls do not seem to be within the requirements of The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. The entity responsible for initiating the calls did not properly identify itself nor was the phone number of that entity provided.
The Committee to Re-Elect Justice Donald L. Corbin is neither responsible for these calls nor do we know who is responsible. We have made, and are still making, diligent efforts today to identify the responsible party, but have not succeeded.
Gregory B. Graham