by Max Brantley
On Friday, Judge Dan Kemp announced his candidacy and filed for Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Judge Kemp began his campaign by outlining his approach to his judicial philosophy, “I pray each morning before I start court that I will be fair and impartial and to decide each case according to the facts, the law, and the rules of evidence and rules of procedure.”
Judge Kemp continued, “We are at a critical point in our Arkansas judiciary. Over the past five years, there have been newspaper headlines, editorials and political commentaries that rightly question the impartiality of our judiciary. Our values in Arkansas are being undermined both behind the scenes and in broad daylight.”
"It is time we followed the United States Supreme Court directive and make a clear set of rules and conditions governing whether a biased judge must recuse in a case. There should never be another situation like the Maggio case in Arkansas - each time that happens, our judiciary suffers incalculable loss of confidence in the public eye."
In response to the much-publicized jail-overcrowding crisis in Arkansas, Judge Kemp spoke of his 29-year experience as criminal court judge and promised greater use of Drug Courts and Veterans Treatment Courts to address the core problems leading to prison overcrowding.
“I serve as a criminal court judge and have sentenced thousands of guilty criminals to jail and prison because I firmly believe criminals owe and should repay their debt to both society and to their innocent victims,” he stated.
“I have been a Drug Court Judge for the past 12 years, and I believe it is important for our judiciary to offer creative solutions to habitual problems instead of packing our jails and letting violent criminals out early because of overcrowding,” said Judge Kemp.
Judge Kemp cautions each Drug Court participant that he will be assessing their character and honesty.
“To me, character means you are honest with everyone you deal with, starting with yourself. You need to be honest, you need to show up, and you need to work hard. I don’t ask anymore out of a drug court participant than I ask of myself,” he said.
In addition to the prison overcrowding crisis, Judge Kemp also believes it is important to address the severe shortage of public defenders so that adequate time is spent assessing each case, thereby giving the justice system more options including probation, drug court or veterans courts.
“As Chief Justice, my plan is to be a strong voice in support of our Constitution’s Sixth Amendment declaration that a criminally accused has a meaningful right to counsel. Our Arkansas public defenders are vastly overworked and understaffed. As Chief Justice, I will address this very serious problem head on with the help of the Arkansas Bar Association, our legislature, our governor and other judges and justices,” he announced.
The nonpartisan judicial election coincides with the presidential primary and will take place on March 1, 2016. Only one other candidate has announced for the position.
"Finally, I will champion the adoption of a strict new set of ethics rules that prohibit all judges from accepting any personal gifts, period. No personal gifts, no headlines,” Judge Kemp concluded.
Judge Kemp and Susan, his wife of forty-two years, reside in Mountain View. They attend the School Avenue Church of Christ where he serves as an elder. The Kemps have two daughters: Lauren Kemp of Portland, Oregon, and Erin Brogdon of North Little Rock. Erin and her husband, Jay, are the parents of the Kemps’ two grandsons, James Hoover and John Hutson.