Judge John Lineberger of Fayetteville ruled today that the Republican Party had followed state law in picking a substitute nominee to run for Washington County judge.
As reported previously, state Rep. Micah Neal, the original nominee, decided to drop out of the race at a date too late under the law for the party to pick a replacement at a convention except for certain reasons, including death of the candidate or a candidate’s move to another district. He cited family reasons for the decision at the time.
After Democrats objected to Republicans’ plan to replace Neal, he said he was moving to Benton County. Democrats argued that was a pretext to allow a substitute nominee and sued. Here’s the full lawsuit.
Deputy Secretary of State Joseph Wood was chosen at a special convention as the GOP’s nominee for country judge. The Democrats nominated Mark Kinion of Fayetteville, a member of the Fayetteville City Council.
Lineberger, a retired judge appointed to hear the case after other local judges recused, rejected the Democratic Party argument. The party’s attorney, Chris Burks, said Lineberger held that though Neal dropped out July 1 without having moved or even citing a plan to move, that he had moved by July 17 and a vacancy was declared July 25. Those facts supported a replacement nominee, the judge ruled. Burks disagrees. He said Neal had to have moved at the time he dropped out, which his testimony and that of Republican Party Chair Doyle Webb made clear he had not done. Neal testified that he’d decided to drop out after a discussion with his father about whether they could continue to own and operate a family restaurant in Springdale if Neal stayed in politics.
The judge declined to hear the Democratic Party’s arguments that the Republican Party hadn’t followed the law in its nominating convention, including by having a nominee chosen by less than the full county committee.
Burks said the party was considering an appeal of the decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court.