Dianna Hewitt Ladd and Judge Jim O’Hern announced Wednesday (May 8) their bids for election and re-election, respectively, for judicial posts. Ladd is running for the newly created Sebastian County Judge post, and O’Hern seeks re-election to position one of the Fort Smith District Court.
The election for both positions is set for March 20, 2020.
The Sebastian County post was added by the Arkansas Legislature to handle the rising caseload.
“I am very excited that the Arkansas Legislature has added another Judge’s position to help relieve our current caseload in Sebastian County. This will mean quicker and better access to the Courts for Sebastian County residents,” Ladd said in a statement.
Ladd, 50, earned a bachelor’s degree from John Brown University and in 2000 earned a law degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law. She lives in Fort Smith with husband Jeff and two children. According to Ladd’s statement, she has tried civil and criminal jury and bench trials in federal and state court and worked as the District Court Prosecuting Attorney for several area cities within and outside of Sebastian County for 17 years. She has served as a Special Judge numerous times during her career.
Ladd is a member of the Immaculate Conception School Board and was an active member for the Junior League of Fort Smith from 2008-2015.
“As a Judge, I would ensure integrity and fairness are paramount. It is critically important that Sebastian County residents have confidence that they will receive a fair day in Court without politics or favoritism playing a part,” Ladd noted.
O’Hern seeks to return to a position he has held since January 2017.
O’Hern received his law degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law. He had a private law practice for 34 years in Fort Smith, was recognized five times as Pro Bono Attorney of the Year to help the poor and elderly, and was twice named the statewide Volunteer Attorney of the Year for the Elderly by the Arkansas Bar Association, according to his statement. O’Hern also is a former adjunct professor at University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, and is president of the Board of Directors for Arc for the River Valley. He is also on the Board of Directors for the Fort Smith Rotary Club, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, and the Sebastian County Law Library.
“I am very passionate about the position entrusted to me by the citizens of Fort Smith. I have continually endeavored to treat each litigant, attorney, members of law enforcement, and city and county officials with the utmost dignity and respect,” O’Hern said in the press release. “When re-elected I will continue to advance a pragmatic approach to the issues that are faced daily by the Fort Smith District Court system.”
He received a letter of admonishment in November 2018 from the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for a 2016 incident in which he was in a Little Rock hotel room with a women later charged with methamphetamine possession in the hotel room.
O’Hern provided this statement Wednesday about that incident: “A person dear to me reached for help. I went to see what I could do. I found myself in a situation not of my making, but in doing so I was able to save her from a life of addiction. Experiences like that have made me so passionate about the success of those recovering in the Alternative Sentencing Program and DWI Court. I am hard on those offenders that are deserving of tough justice. As to those non violent offenders who want to overcome addiction and change their lives for the better, those who want to break the cycle of court and jail, I want them to have the tools and resources that will make them successful. I am not on the bench to condemn, I am there to judge appropriately, which includes making changes to the system for the benefit of all of the citizens of Fort Smith.”
Administrative Law Judge Amy Grimes on April 30 announced her candidacy for the position O’Hern now holds.