Tuesday, October 19, 2010

EDITORIAL >>High court race

Voters will choose a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court at the general election, and it is hard to see how they can go wrong.  Judge Karen Baker of the Arkansas Court of Appeals and Judge Tim Fox, a circuit judge in Pulaski County, are splendid judges with such deep experience on both ends of the gavel that they should not diminish the quality of judgment by the state’s highest court.

Judge Baker seems apt to win because she was close to a majority in the three-person contest in the primaries in May. She was better known after 10 years on the Court of Appeals, and Judge Fox suffered because he rendered rulings in a couple of divisive lawsuits on the volatile issue of whether gay or lesbian couples could be barred from parenting children as foster or adoptive parents. He ruled correctly and the Supreme Court upheld him, but it was not an issue that improved his political standing. We expect judges to rule on the basis of the law and not upon popular whims.

Judge Baker has not always endeared herself to the economic powers. She wrote the Court of Appeals’ robust and unanimous opinion last year that the state regulatory agencies had not followed the law in granting a phalanx of power companies permits to build and operate a huge coal-burning electricity plant in southwest Arkansas. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld that decision, too.

Our single reservation about Judge Baker goes back some years to when she was a chancery judge and clamped the lid on a bitterly contested divorce and property-settlement suit involving the most powerful man in the county, Acxiom Corp. founder Charles Morgan. She largely ignored interventions to keep the records open, as they are for ordinary people.

We have no indication that Judge Fox would cater to privilege in that way, which gives him a slight advantage in our own equation. But Judge Baker was young and seems to have grown in confidence and independence.

She accepted a campaign contribution recently from the Republican Party, which seems to violate the Canon of Judicial Ethics, but Judge Fox also happily accepted the endorsement of a Republican committee. Arkansas amended the Constitution a few years ago to make judicial elections non-partisan, but the Republican Party took a hand in influencing several judicial races. Non-partisan elections apparently are to be honored in the breach rather than the observance.
In this race, take your pick, Fox or Baker.    —Ernie Dumas