Bart Virden, a Conway County district court judge in Morrilton, is filing today for the District 2, Position 1 seat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Circuit Judge Mike Maggio of Conway had filed earlier for the position. The seat is currently held by Bill Walmsley, serving out an unexpired term, who can’t run for the office.
Few judicial races are being contested this year. Maggio has been more or less running in tandem with a friend from Conway, Court of Appeals Judge Rhonda Wood, who’s seeking a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court and is so far unopposed. Though judges don’t run as partisan candidates, both Maggio and Wood are seen as Republicans and have campaigned heavily at Republican committee meetings. Virden has been a supporter of Democrats in election races.
Of more interest in this race are legal philosophies. Virden is a past president of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, associated with the plaintiffs side of the bar. He’s a partner in the Gordon, Caruth and Virden law firm.
Maggio is among a phalanx of judicial candidates this year supported by foes of plaintiffs’ lawyers, such as the nursing home industry. Maggio made news last year when he reduced a unanimous $5 million jury verdict (Faulkner County has no reputation for runaway juries) to $1 million. He said the jury award shocked his conscience. It was given to the family of a woman who died in excruciating pain in a nursing home that had failed to follow a doctor’s order to have her transferred to a hospital.
Maggio also has a lengthy record of ethical and judgmental miscues. He pulled an unidentified badge when stopped for speeding. He’s had tax liens filed against him and fell in arrears on his home mortgage. He was disciplined by the state Ethics Commission for taking campaign money for personal expenses and not reporting how it was spent. Maggio was among the recipients of bundled fund-raising orchestrated by former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway, now a lobbyist for the University of Central Arkansas. Baker’s ties to pro-tort-reform interests, particularly nursing homes, have been used by Baker (who’s paid $132,000 a year by UCA) to raise significant sums for like-minded candidates, such as Wood and Maggio and Republican legislative candidates.