Filing closed for Arkansas judicial races with only a scattering of contested races.
At every level, many spots are filled by candidates who expected to be financed by wealthy business interests anxious to see legislated from the bench what they haven't been able to win at the legislature: further limits on damage lawsuits.
One notable victory for the Chamber of Commerce and its allies was Rhonda Wood, a Court of Appeals judge who drew no opposition for an open seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court. She made more than half her initial campaign contributions from the nursing home industry, which was a "tell" on her philosophy surer than a blinking, sweating poker player in a Texas hold 'em game.
But a little bumpy spot emerged this week for one chamber-approved candidate. Circuit Judge Mike Maggio suffered a grievous political blow.
Maggio, of Conway, made the rounds of Republican county committees politicking with his friend Wood and also scored nursing home contributions thanks to the help of UCA's publicly paid $132,000-a-year lobbyist, Gilbert Baker of Conway, in between Baker's money bundling for Republican legislative candidates. He was expected to win unopposed.
But Blue Hog Report's Matt Campbell, a lawyer and records sleuth, uncovered Maggio's prolific posting under the pseudonym "geauxjudge" on an LSU fan website, Tiger Droppings. Maggio gave away his identity with personal references. Much of his writing was juvenile. It was sexist (women are only interested in bulges in pants or wallets); racist (ever see a doctor named Tanisha?); homophobic (don't go to Disney World during gay pride week), and outlandishly scornful of Arkansas. Over and over, Mississippi native Maggio depicted Arkansas as an incestuous backwoods. Example: "What's the most used line in Arkansas? Daddy get off of me. You're crushing my cigarettes."
It's an interesting question whether Maggio broke any ethical rules with anonymous comments. But he was exposed. And litigants in his courts — women, blacks, gays, poor Arkies — now have reason to question his impartiality.
Maggio brought to this race a sketchy record — including messy personal finances and Ethics Commission discipline for spending campaign money on personal expenses. His astonishing ruling to help a negligent nursing home sued over the excruciating death of a patient — reduction of a unanimous $5 million jury verdict to $1 million — also had been noted.
Blue Hog revealed more than a contemptuous judge. He revealed that Maggio, on a message board for football fans, had said that actress Charlize Theron had come to Faulkner County in 2012 to adopt her son Jackson. Adoption proceedings are secret. Maggio's violation of that should be ground for removal from the bench.
At the very minimum it was ground for voters to prefer Judge Bart Virden of Morrilton, a last-minute filer for the same Arkansas Court of Appeals seat. Shortly before press time, Maggio issued a brief no-comment, prompting his campaign consultant to quit over his apparent decision to stay in the race in the face of crippling disclosures.
Maggio's actions were already under review by the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission when Blue Hog and Arkansas Blog reports appeared Monday. Even if Maggio eventually decides to get out of the Court of Appeals race, that review continues. He remains on the circuit court bench through the end of this year.
There's high irony in the development. Maggio was the designated candidate of the business lobby. Virden is a past president of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, generally pitted against the chamber of commerce in legislative battles. Looking for a strict construction conservative to advance their cause, the business lobby came up with a fistful of Tiger droppings.