The three-way race for Arkansas Supreme Court has been dominated by lavish spending by out-of-state groups hoping to influence the Arkansas judiciary. Now, one of those groups has also jumped into a race for the state Court of Appeals in which Judge Bart Virden is being challenged by Johnnie Copeland, a district judge from Mountain Home.
The ad is paid for by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a 527 political organization. Judicial elections are supposed to be nonpartisan, but that doesn’t stop an outside group from spending big in a race, as long it’s kept independent of the candidate’s official campaign.
The RSLC ad against Virden smears the appellate judge for overturning the conviction of a man accused of rape, based on the trial court improperly preventing the defense from impeaching one of the testifying victims with a previous misdemeanor conviction. To groups like the RSLC, due process issues are nothing but fuel for political attacks. “Violent convicts pray for judges like Bart Virden,” the ad declares.
It’s similar to the recent TV spot defaming Virden’s colleague on the Court of Appeals, Judge Kenneth Hixon, for overturning a rape conviction. That ad was paid for by the other big outside group trying to buy seats on Arkansas’s courts, the Judicial Crisis Network.
Earlier this month, the RSLC began airing TV ads in support of David Sterling, who is challenging Associate Justice Courtney Goodson for her seat on the state Supreme Court. In 2016, the RSLC smeared attorney Clark Mason in his race against Judge Shawn Womack for an open seat on the state Supreme Court. (Womack won.)