DAN KEMP: His campaign says suggestion of impropriety over criminal case 'reeks of dirty politics.'
Matt Campbell, the attorney who runs the Blue Hog Report blog, has made a complaint to the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission
about Circuit Judge Dan Kemp's
handling of a criminal case last year, and his campaign's recent statements regarding that case.
Kemp is running for chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court
against Associate Justice Courtney Goodson
in a race that has attracted unprecedented levels of spending
both by the candidates and by out-of-state groups seeking to influence the election.
KATV's Marine Glisovic tweeted an image
of the JDDC complaint this afternoon — presumably supplied by Campbell — but the commission itself can't acknowledge its existence. Like complaints to the Ethics Commission, judicial discipline complaints aren't released until the JDDC announces an investigation, which would almost certainly be after next Tuesday's election. (Also, just for the sake of context: It's likely that the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission has received a number of such complaints this campaign season, since, well, it's campaign season.)
Here's the basis of Campbell's complaint, followed by an explanation:
On November 28, 2015, Judge Kemp approved a guilty plea in exchange for dismissal of felony charges against Lea Ann Finn. Ms. Finn is the eldest daughter of Jim Hinkle of Mtn. View, who has been a close personal friend of Judge Kemp for "all [their] lives" according to Mr. Hinkle. Mr. Hinkle's other daughter, Katie Henry, and Judge Kemp's daughter, Erin Brogdon, are also close personal friends and have been for several years.
Just over two weeks after that plea agreement, Mr. and Mrs. Hinkle each donated $2,500 to Judge Kemp's campaign for Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. Ms. Finn's sister — Katie Henry — also donated $500 to Judge Kemp around this time. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hinkle send out a mass email, asking people to donate to Judge Kemp's campaign and speaking out in support of Judge Kemp.
On February 21, 2016, this appearance of impropriety regarding the timing of the contributions following the reduction in charges and guilty [pleas] was reported in a post on Blue Hog Report. In response, the Kemp campaign issued a statement, claiming that Ms. Finn was treated exactly the same as "any other first time drug offender." However, Ms. [Finn] pleaded guilty to several felony drug charges in Faulkner County in 2007 and was given 5 years' probation, a fact that Judge Kemp was well aware of according to someone close to the Hinkles.
Judge Kemp's failure to recuse from a criminal case against the daughter of a close family friend appears to violate Rule 1.2 and Rule 2.11.
Judge Kemp's issuance of a knowingly false or misleading statement in response to the Blue Hog Report Story appears to violate Rule 4.1(A)(11).
Campbell first raised the issue of Lea Ann Finn's case, which appeared in Kemp's court late last year. Given the possible appearance of impropriety, Kemp should have recused himself from this case, Campbell argued.
The Kemp campaign issued a sharply worded rebuttal, saying in part, "The plea agreement in the referenced case is no different than thousands of other cases that involve first time offenders in Arkansas. ... Any accusation or suggestion that Judge Kemp arranged a favorable ruling in exchange for campaign support is categorically false, and reeks of dirty politics from his opponent’s campaign."
Campbell yesterday published a follow-up post at Blue Hog Report
clarifying why he believes Kemp should have recused — the fact the two families were so close "was more than sufficient to trigger reasonable questions about the judge’s impartiality in that matter" — but also seizing upon the statement from Kemp's campaign that Lea Ann Finn was a first-time offender. That's not the case, Campbell wrote:
You see, back in 2006, Ms. Finn (whose surname at the time was Walker) was arrested in Faulkner County and charged with Y-felony manufacture/possession/distribution of less than 28g of methamphetamine, B-felony manufacture/possession with intent to distribute counterfeit methamphetamine, C-felony possession/use of drug paraphernalia, DWI-1st (misdemeanor), refusal to submit to a chemical test, and careless and prohibited driving.
On May 15, 2007, Ms. Finn entered a guilty plea on all of those charges, and Judge Mike Maggio imposed a sentence of five years’ probation, $2,950 in fines and costs, and 80 hours of community service.
On July 6, 2007, Ms. Finn was charged with DWI and driving on a DWI-suspended license in Hot Spring County. On August 28, 2007, again in Hot Spring County, she was charged with DWI-2nd, driving on a DWI-suspended license, careless drive, and not wearing a seatbelt. The two Hot Spring County cases were tried at the same time on June 26, 2008, at which time the driving-on-suspended charges, as well as the careless and seatbelt charges were dismissed. The court also entered a docket notation to amend the DWI-2nd to DWI-1st because, according to the court, the Faulkner Co. DWI charge had not been recorded as guilty.