A merit-based judicial selection system

By Circuit Judge John N. Fogleman Guest Commentary

After this election is over it is time that we started a serious and open discussion about the manner in which we select our judges in Arkansas. In the last several years there have been several events that have cast a cloud over our judiciary and undermined the confidence of the public in the integrity of our judiciary. Here are just a few of the headlines from newspapers about Arkansas judges: “Arkansas judge denies sexually inappropriate relations with defendants” “Arkansas judge loses job over online comments about actress Charlize Theron” “Arkansas judge loses job over leaked documents in adoption case” “Arkansas ‘spanking judge’ faces discipline commission” “Arkansas judge arrested, charged with domestic battery” “Circuit judge’s Walmart altercation under review” In 2013 the president of the Arkansas Bar Association called for legislators to adopt “merit selection” of judges. In a 2014 race for a position on the Arkansas Supreme Court, an out of state group spent over $300,000 dollars against a candidate. You have to ask yourself why would any group, in-state or out-of-state, spend that kind of money to try and mislead voters. In the spring of 2014 a circuit judge running for a position on the court of appeals withdrew from the race after online sexist and racist comments he made became public. This same judge later pled guilty to bribery in a case where he had reduced a $5-million-dollar judgment to $1 million dollars. The beneficiary of this reduction was the major donor to this judge’s campaign. In August of 2014 Attorney General Dustin McDaniel called for the State to consider moving to merit selection of supreme court justices. In April of 2015 Governor Hutchinson stated it was time for Arkansas to rethink its method of selecting appellate judges. Some might think this is a knee jerk reaction to a few “bad-apple” judges but nothing could be further from the truth. Years ago the Arkansas legislature created the Arkansas Judiciary Commission to study the Arkansas judiciary. The chair of this commission later served on the Arkansas Supreme Court for 13 years and retired as Chief Justice. This commission unanimously recommended that a “merit selection” method of selecting judges be adopted. The chair of that commission was Crittenden County’s own Justice John A. Fogleman, my uncle. The year was 1965, over 50 years ago. Now is the time to have a serious discussion about the manner in which we select our judges and to act on it. Judge John N. Fogleman is a judge for the Second Circuit of the Arkansas Circuit Courts. He is in Division 8, serving Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Greene, Mississippi and Poinsett counties. He was re-elected to the Second Circuit on May 20, 2014 for a term expiring in 2020.

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