Columns » John Brummett

Four points on Associate Justice Courtney Henry

Readers request Brummett's thoughts on the young judge's $100,000 gift disclosure.

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Most of the reader requests I get lately ask me to write about Associate Justice Courtney Henry of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The young judge has just disclosed, as required by law, that she took nearly $100,000 worth of gifts from a trial lawyer in Texarkana, John Goodson, whom she identified to the press as her boyfriend.

All right, then. Here are four points about Justice Henry:

1. I have no ethics-based accusation to make against her for having a boyfriend, even one who is loaded. I extend the benefit of the doubt that she and the lawyer are sweet on each other. I have no evidence that she is using her position on the Supreme Court to extort him or that he is using his money to bribe her. She has pre-emptively recused from his firm's appeals.

If they were to get married, and I am not saying and do not care, then gifts would be exempt from disclosure, since the state does not presume to get between a public official and the family Christmas tree. Would someone say they are not entitled to marry?

I simply am not prepared to make political commentary about another's courtship.

2. This is not the first time I have disappointed readers where Justice Henry is concerned.

During her Supreme Court campaign last year, I received several calls from lawyers wanting me to take her to task for asserting a special sensitivity on children's issues, specifically adoption, because she herself was adopted. In fact, her mother divorced her father and remarried and then the second husband adopted young Courtney.

I do not know how adopted one has to be to say one is adopted.

Obviously she was not orphaned and her campaign rhetoric was imaginatively spun. But I kept struggling with the wording of a column: "Courtney Henry is asserting on the campaign trail that she was adopted as a child though, well, actually, she was adopted as a child, but ... "

3. I have alluded to this before, but this is a good time to say it again. I apologize to readers for having recommended Justice Henry's election last year over John Fogleman. It was the second-worst endorsement I ever made, topped only by that of Mark Wilcox for secretary of state.

I did so only because Justice Henry was married into a prominent political family in Fayetteville for which I have great regard and respect. That she split the sheet with that family a few days after her election took away the only thing that commended her for the job.

The trouble is that these are eight-year terms.

4. This unfortunate episode enhances the argument that we should not popularly elect these justices. The Bar Association should screen and advance candidates and the governor should nominate them subject to state Senate confirmation.

I am not thinking that Justice Henry, whose courtroom experience is scant and who mostly has been an appeals judge's clerk, would have been near the top of the Bar Association's list.

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