Judicial politics in Faulkner and Conway counties was a colorful, if smelly, business in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. A gang of judges, legislators and county officials regularly used the courts to advance the interests of themselves and their deep-pocketed friends, and they did it more or less openly as well as lightheartedly. Critics were called “naive” and “radical,” even occasionally clapped in jail when they got too bothersome. Those proponents of good, honest courts in the area included the state’s largest newspaper and Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, the first Republican to hold the office in a century, a fighting liberal too rich and too honest to be corrupted.
Over time, death and loss of office diminished the old bunch. But apparently there’s a would-be successor. A public-spirited blogger has exposed the questionable dealings of Circuit Judge Mike Maggio, a Republican but not the Rockefeller sort. With strong party and business support, Maggio had been running for the state Court of Appeals, until the blogger, Matt Campbell, revealed Maggio’s highly questionable receipt of funds from rich defendants in Maggio’s court. Maggio has now dropped out of the race and faces further investigation.
Around the country, rich right-wing groups have been pouring money into state judicial races they never paid attention to before, believing that in this way they can change laws that don’t favor the fortunate 1 percent.
Retired Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Brown has, on the other hand, warned against the danger of Arkansas courts being corrupted by special-interest money. He has made modest proposals to inhibit the wealthy ideologues who’d do it. And for this, he has been attacked by the state’s largest newspaper of today, a much different entity from the one that opposed corruption in the courtroom years ago.
Vigilance is required of those who believe the courts are for everyone. We can’t have as much money as the radical 1-percenters. We can try to be as alert. We can be more patriotic.