Judicial watchdog committee asks Republican group to pull claims in Supreme Court ads

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 168 views 

A newly formed committee that says its purpose is to ensure integrity in judicial campaigns has issued a letter to a D.C.-based group saying one of its campaign mailouts contains false and misleading information and asked it to discontinue making the claim. The outside group says it can back it up.

The controversy is in response to a mailout by the D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee saying that Clark Mason, a Little Rock trial attorney running for an Arkansas Supreme Court associate justice slot, “admits his support for Obama’s executive actions that kill Arkansas jobs while making trial lawyers rich.” The committee supports his opponent, Circuit Judge Shawn Womack of Mountain Home, a former Republican state legislator.

The Mason campaign complained to the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct & Election Committee, a new nonprofit that says its mission is to educate voters on judicial candidates and combat misleading ads by independent groups. It has created a website, www.arkansasjudges.org, that provides information about judicial candidates.

The committee’s five-member Rapid Response Team reviewed the mailout and the footnote to the claim, which it said pointed to a blog post at Mason’s legal firm website. The blog contains a post about former Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio pleading guilty to a federal bribery charge but says nothing about an executive action by President Obama.

The Rapid Response Team asked the Republican State Leadership Committee to respond within 24 hours on Feb. 20. When it didn’t, it sent a letter marked “CEASE AND DESIST” Feb. 24 asking the RSLC to discontinue using the reference and saying it would make its acton public. The nonprofit is not an entity with legal authority.

In an email to Talk Business & Politics, Ellie Wallace, Republican State Leadership Committee communications director, sent an archived blog post she said has been deleted from the Clark Mason law firm site. The post summarizes approvingly an executive order prohibiting companies pursuing government contracts from requiring workers to agree upfront to mandatory arbitration. That’s when companies include in contracts such as cell phone plans a clause where a person waives the right to a trial and agrees to arbitration where cases are decided with no right to appeal.

“Hopefully this will be the first step in restoring the right to trial by jury for millions of Americans,” the post said. The archive can be found here.

The RSLC, which is not affiliated with the Republican Party of Arkansas, has also established a web page at www.arkansascourtfacts.com that says that Mason is a “trial lawyer boss who supports Obama’s policies.” It footnotes the same blog post about Judge Maggio.

Wallace accused members of the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct and Education Committee of being partisan, saying its members had made more than $60,000 in campaign contributions to Democrats while contributing only $250 to one Republican.

The committee’s board of directors is composed of retired Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck; retired Justice Robert L. Brown; Sixth Judicial District Judge Mary McGowan; attorneys Mark Nichol, Nate Coulter, Jim Julian and Harry Truman Moore; and business owner Beverly Morrow.

The Rapid Response Team is composed of attorney Elizabeth Andreoli; Dr. Hal Bass, professor of political science at Ouachita Baptist University; retired U.S. bankruptcy judge Audrey Evans; retired Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Olly Neal; and journalist Roy Ockert.

In a statement, Ockert said the RSLC had chosen to attack the committee instead of responding to the request.

“The Rapid Response Team is a group of five volunteers who have been acting independently of the Judicial Campaign & Education Committee. We have taken great pains to establish a fair process and then to carry it out,” he said. “We went to considerable lengths to try to reach the Republican State Leadership Committee and give it a chance to respond to the complaint.

“As for the allegations about the committee and team members being Democratic donors, I can only speak for myself. I have never contributed to any political campaign except through the IRS. I don’t know about the other team members but fail to understand why that would be a issue if they had. Judicial elections in Arkansas are nonpartisan, and this Republican group is obviously trying to make them otherwise.”

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