Citizen journalist Matt Campbell’s Blue Hog Report has a new post out about Judge Dan Kemp of Mountain View, who is currently running for Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court against Justice Courtney Goodson. Specifically, Campbell is on the trail of a 2014 case in which a Stone County woman reached a plea agreement before Kemp on two drug-related felonies just before her influential parents made a contribution to Kemp’s campaign and, later, a public endorsement.
In Oct. 2014, Lee Ann Finn of Stone County was arrested and charged with two felonies and two misdemeanors, including possession of drug paraphernalia, charges which could have netted her a minimum of five years in prison, and possibly up to 26 years in jail. As Campbell notes, the felonies in the case were later dismissed in a plea agreement before Judge Kemp. While plea bargains happen nearly every day in nearly every courthouse, Campbell’s political payback spidey senses are tingling. From the post:
As noted, Judge Kemp announced [his candidacy] on November 6, 2015. On November 12, 2015, Judge Kemp signed off on a plea agreement that did away with two felonies–one of which carried a mandatory minimum of five years.
Oh…did I mention that Ms. Finn is the daughter of Kay and James Hinkle of Mountain View? Because she is.
Why does that matter? Because Stone County is not exactly large in terms of population. So, for the uninitiated, Kay Hinkle is a UCA Board Member. James Hinkle is part of the family that owned the independent Bank of Mountain View and the independent telephone company, the Mountain View Telephone Co.
Anyway, sixteen days after Judge Kemp signed off on Lea Ann Finn’s plea of guilty to an unclassified misdemeanor, Ms. Finn’s parents each donated $2,500.00 to Judge Kemp’s campaign. Her sister also donated $500 on that same date.
Campbell goes on to note that James Finn later sent out an email to friends expressing his support for Kemp.
“And therein lies the rub, and the reason for this post,” Campbell writes. “In the absolute best–case scenario, you still have a judge agreeing to a plea bargain where felony drug charges are dropped and a near-meaningless DWI-Drugs (1st offense) is the only charge to get a guilty plea. Even in that super happy version, the judge allows the state to turn a blind eye to offenses that would normally warrant a minimum five years in prison. In the worst case scenario, however, that plea was in exchange for $5,500.00 in contributions less than a month after a candidacy was announced, and it got Judge Kemp an email endorsement/request for donations from a person in Stone County who carried more clout than 99% of the population up there.”
Erin S. Brogdon, manager for the Kemp campaign, has issued a statement regarding Campbell’s story today:
“In our judicial system it is the prosecutor, not the judge, that negotiates and recommends plea bargains, Brogdon wrote. “The plea agreement in the referenced case is no different than thousands of other cases that involve first time offenders in Arkansas. Furthermore, according to rules of professional conduct – which Judge Kemp has pledged to uphold – judicial candidates should, as much as possible, not be aware of those who have contributed to their campaign. Any accusation or suggestion that Judge Kemp arranged a favorable ruling in exchange for campaign support is categorically false, and reeks of dirty politics from his opponent’s campaign.”