Talk Business & Politics asked candidates in the five contested judicial races in Sebastian County for a 350-word essay on why they are the best person in their respective race. Candidate essays from all five races will be posted this week.
Following are the essays from Greg Magness, Phil Milligan, and Sebastian County Deputy Public Defender Rita Watkins, who are candidates in the Sebastian County Circuit Court, Division VI race. The essays are posted in alphabetical order.
• Greg Magness
I grew up in Sebastian County and attended the Fort Smith Public Schools, graduating from Southside High School in 1982. I earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in chemistry from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and a juris doctor degree from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. I was an associate editor of the Texas Law Review and graduated with honors from law school in 1991. Since graduating from law school, I have been in private practice and have been a partner with Hardin, Jesson & Terry, PLC, since 1995. I have had experience with many matters that come before the circuit court, such as business and commercial disputes, personal injury cases and domestic relations.
In 2017 I was elected to the Fort Smith School Board and I have enjoyed serving our community in that role. I hope to continue public service as a circuit court judge. One of the most important attributes of a judge is good judgment, avoiding hasty conclusions, but listening and considering the arguments of all sides to any particular controversy. As a judge, I will aspire to the principle engraved on the front of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington D.C., “Equal Justice Under Law.” This short but powerful maxim reminds us that equal justice is the goal of our judicial system, but equal justice cannot be attained when judges make decisions based on their own personal beliefs. Equal justice must find its foundations in the law. If the concept of justice is separated from the legal principles established in our Constitutions (both state and federal), it creates uncertainty and unreliability in the legal system, which ultimately leads to unequal justice. If I am elected, I will always apply the laws passed down to us by the Framers of the Constitution and enacted by our legislators, the key to maintaining equal justice under law.
• Phil Milligan
I have been a practicing attorney in Fort Smith for over 27 years and have served as legal counsel for many local small businesses. I also serve or have served on the boards of various non-profit organizations including but not limited to AOREPA (Arkansas/Oklahoma Regional Education and Promotion Association, Inc.) known as the Arkansas Oklahoma Fair and Rodeo Board. Prior to moving back to my hometown of Fort Smith to begin my practice, I served as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
My education includes a Bachelors Degree in Biology from Arkansas Tech and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville. I live in Fort Smith with my wife of 31 years, Julie. We have one son and are long time members of Goddard United Methodist Church.
I have been asked numerous times why I’m running for this position. Sebastian County is losing almost 40 years of combined judicial jury trial experience with our two retiring judges. Division VI is a highly technical, complicated bench which hears 50% of the civil and 20% of felony criminal jury trials in the county. My unique experience as both former federal law enforcement and almost 28 years in my private practice during which time my experience includes numerous civil and criminal jury trials, allows me, if elected, to hit the ground running with little learning curve. Further, I HAVE NOT been supported by special interests or their money, which is of the utmost importance in preserving the integrity and, most importantly, the public trust in our courts.
My judicial philosophy is very simple. I believe a Circuit Judge must fairly listen to both sides in every case before applying the law to the particular facts of that case, and always treat everybody in the litigation process with the respect and dignity they deserve.
• Rita Watkins
Fulfilling a lifelong goal, I am running for Sebastian County Circuit Court Judge, Division VI. It is my hope to maintain the decorum and respect that Judges Cox and Wilkinson provided while serving in this position. While a novice deputy public defender, and having transitioned to a seasoned litigator, I learned that it was possible to implement the law and show dignity and respect to ALL who enter the courthouse doors.
Having been employed by the Sebastian County Public Defender’s office since 2005, I have developed unparalleled courtroom experience. I am able to effectively and efficiently maintain a caseload that is not for the faint at heart, sometimes practicing before the Sebastian County Circuit and District Judges three to four times a week. This experience has provided me with firsthand knowledge of the day-to-day operations of Sebastian County Courts. In addition, my prior legal experience also includes estate planning, business law, personal injury and domestic relations, all of which are part of the Circuit Court’s responsibility.
I believe the most important attributes for a judge to possess are being fair and just. These attributes encompass various other human qualities that a judge should possess. And not just any judge, but a great judge. I have lived my life ensuring fairness and equality for all. I have experienced unjust treatment and inequality in many aspects of my life, and those experiences have allowed me to be mindful that we are all human beings and deserve to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect.
If elected, I intend to work with the other Circuit Court judges to make sure that justice is paramount throughout the Sebastian County judicial system. I intend to be an influential voice in decluttering the courts dockets, as well as effectively, yet expeditiously, assisting those trying to navigate the system. Finally, it’s my hope that I can focus on providing respect, integrity, transparency, and accountability to the bench.