by Max Brantley
Judicial elections have always been a bad idea. The special-interest money unleashed by recent Supreme Court rulings has made them even worse, greatly increasing the influence of political-action committees and supposedly independent groups financed by corporations, unions and other interests with issues before the courts.
Similarly, the election on Tuesday for an open Supreme Court seat in Arkansas has been polluted by the involvement of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, a sketchy out-of-state group that has had ties to the National Rifle Association.
In the end, the LEAA attack ad is beyond the pale. It comes at the 11th hour and distorts the record in a blatant appeal to fear and emotion. It is funded by special interests, but we don’t know the real intent of those behind the ad, because the group does not have to disclose its donors. This kind of attack has become all too common in races for the legislative and executive branches of government, but it is incompatible with the code of judicial conduct and has no place in judicial races.
In nothing I’ve seen from the Judge has he clearly repudiated the injection of unsourced, out-of-state cash into Arkansas judicial races (“dark money” as some call it), or the airing of false campaign ads in judicial races. Last week, concerned citizens and lawyers, Tim Cullen, and former Justice Annabelle Clinton Imber took to the steps of the Arkansas Capitol to protest the rise of “dark money” in judicial races. Judge Wynne was a no-show. It’s too bad he missed such a good opportunity to explain himself when, frankly, he has a few more questions to answer. At the very least, it would have meant something to see Judge Wynne apologize to Tim Cullen, call out the TV ad as false, and tell the audience that Tim is better than the person portrayed in that ad. Sadly, no such luck.
Even worse, as far as I’ve seen, Judge Wynne has failed to reaffirm the basic constitutional and common-sense principle (which, till now, I’d taken as a given, unless of course you’re asking his PAC buddies) that all criminal defendants get a vigorous defense, and criminal defense attorneys ought not be criticized, simply for doing their essential jobs, if they’re up later for a judgeship or another governmental post. All told, the public responses of Judge Wynne, at least as I’ve seen them, have been half-hearted, incomplete, and, well, baffling