Sebastian County Circuit Court Judge Gunner DeLay told members of the Craighead County GOP on Tuesday night (Nov. 23) that if he’s not elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court he’s fearful it could become more moderate or liberal in the coming years.
The former Arkansas legislator from Fort Smith spoke to 50 or so people during a campaign stop in Jonesboro.
DeLay is seeking the seat currently held by Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Karen Baker, who has not announced if she will seek re-election. Arkansas Supreme Court Justices serve eight-year terms, and the election is slated for May 24.
First elected as a circuit court judge in 2020 a few years after being appointed to the bench by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, he said judges on all levels face the prospect of being ridiculed by the public. Despite this, a judge must adhere to the law no matter what the fall out might be.
“As a judge you may have to have the courage to face the mob,” he said.
A self-professed constitutional conservative, DeLay blasted Baker’s role in a controversial decision to vacate the capital murder conviction of Mauricio Torres in April of 2019. In a 4-3 decision, Baker sided with the majority.
In November 2016, Torres was convicted of sodomizing his 6-year-son while his family was on a camping trip in Missouri in 2015. The child died from an infection after the family returned to Arkansas. The high court ruled that one of the charges Torres was convicted of, rape, occurred in Missouri and the courts in Arkansas had no jurisdiction on that charge that led to the capital murder conviction.
DeLay disagreed, telling attendees that he thinks the courts in Arkansas did have jurisdiction in relation to that charge. Torres was subsequently convicted of capital murder at a second trial, but a local judge declared a mistrial during the sentencing phase after the verdict when a family member lunged at Torres. A third trial is pending.
State Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, asked DeLay about Pulaski County Judge Tim Fox’s decision to issue a preliminary injunction halting the legislature’s barring of mask mandates in schools. Ladyman wanted to know why cases like that are always decided in the Pulaski Circuit Court.
DeLay said Pulaski County was chosen as the court to hear cases that impact the entire state due to its central location. The decision was made in 1874 when Arkansas’ current constitution was adopted. To change that rule, the state’s constitution would have to be amended by a vote of the people, he added.
One thing that has changed in years since DeLay left the legislature and took a seat on the bench is the toxic nature of the political divide, he said.
“Our country has lost the ability to debate in a civil manner,” he added.