LITTLE ROCK — A recent judge’s ruling that disqualified a judicial candidate over a past suspension raises questions about the eligibility of other candidates with past suspensions on their records.
A special appointed judge ruled March 19 that Little Rock lawyer Valerie Thompson Bailey is not eligible to challenge Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox’s re-election bid because of a past administrative suspension of her law license. But a few other judicial candidates have had their licenses suspended as well — including Fox.
Amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution states that Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges must have been licensed lawyers in the state for at least eight years before taking office; circuit judges must have been licensed lawyers for six years before taking office; and district judges must have been licensed lawyers for four years before taking office.
As reported first by the Blue Hog Report blog, candidates besides Bailey who have been subjected to administrative suspension include Fox; Court of Appeals Judge Rhonda Wood, who is running unopposed for the Supreme Court; and Faulkner County Circuit Judge H.G. Foster, who was appointed to his current position in the 1st Division and is running against Doralee Chandler, a Conway resident who practices law in Little Rock, for an open 5th Division seat.
Special appointed judge John Cole ruled in a lawsuit filed by a voter that because Bailey’s license was restored in November 2011, less than six years before she would take office if elected, she was not eligible for the position. The fact that the suspension was administrative and not disciplinary made no difference, the judge said.
Bailey had chosen to live out of state and focus on raising her children for a few years. Her license was suspended for nine years.
According to the Supreme Court Clerk, Fox’s license was suspended from March 2 to April 16 last year; Wood’s license was suspended from March 2-13 in 2008; and Foster’s license was suspended from March 2 to May 17 last year. All were suspended for failure to pay licensing fees.
Fox and Wood did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday. Foster said in a phone interview that “obviously I am concerned about the ruling.”
“I’m more embarrassed about the fact that I let my dues go unpaid, that I did not follow up and see that they were paid,” he said.
Foster said he paid his dues as soon as he became aware of the inadvertent lapse.
“I was in the middle of court last May when I got the telephone call that my dues were still in paid, and I stopped court, got in my car and just drove to Little Rock and paid them,” he said.
Foster said he has studied Amendment 80, but he said it would not be appropriate for him to comment on how it should be interpreted.
“That’s for whoever it’s going to come in front of,” he said. “I’ve looked at, and I am continuing my candidacy and continuing the campaign. I don’t know what anybody might do with regard to making a challenge or what any other court that the issue might land in front of might do.”
The nonpartisan judicial election will be May 20.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report misstated the reason for the candidates’ suspensions.