Tuesday, May 29, 2012

TOP STORY >> Whiteaker set for runoff

Leader staff writer

Circuit Judge Phillip Whiteaker of Cabot is preparing to step up his campaign for the District 1, Position 2 seat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

Since he received 17,272 votes, or only 38.13 percent of the total in the three-way race, he will be in a runoff election Nov. 6 against Jeannette Robertson, a lawyer from Jonesboro who came in second with 14,683 votes, or 32.41 percent of the total.

Whiteaker, who has been a circuit judge in Lonoke County for 15 years, won in 54 of Lonoke County’s 55 precincts and tied with Robertson in Lafayette Township with each candidate receiving one vote there.

Jonesboro lawyer Richard Lusby received 13,348 votes, or 29.46 percent.

Whiteaker says he’s encouraged by all the support he received from voters last week and is looking forward to the runoff. As the only judge in the race, getting the word out about his experience will be the key to winning, he said.

Since Whiteaker’s seat on the circuit court is not up for re-election, he will still be a circuit judge if he is not elected to the appeals court.

“It’s a good place to be,” Whiteaker said Tuesday.

In his years on the bench, he has tried to apply the law in a way that would help people, he said. And he thinks he could do the same thing on the appeals court. But if he is not successful, he will continue his work in Lonoke County.

The seat on the court of appeals became open because Judge Raymond Abramson was appointed in 2010 and is not allowed to run in the election.

Abramson was defeated for a position on the Arkansas Supreme Court by Judge Jo Hart who also serves on the court of appeals, 195,001 to 103,282.

Court of Appeals District 1 covers 12 counties. In addition to Lonoke, Whiteaker won in Woodruff, White, Prairie and Monroe counties.

Robertson won in Clay, Greene, Mississippi and Poinsett counties and Lusby won in Cross, Crittenden and Craighead counties.

The Arkansas Court of Appeals was created by an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution in 1978 to relieve the growing case load of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The decisions the court hands down are binding on lower courts and cannot necessarily be appealed to the higher court. The court also hears cases from the Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission.

“This is often the court of last resort for many issues,” Whiteaker said when he announced he was running. “If elected I promise to continue to use down-to-earth common sense in applying the law in a fair and impartial manner.”

During his time as a circuit judge, Whiteaker has presided over 22,000 cases including criminal, civil, domestic, probate and juvenile matters.

He voluntarily served as the judge of the Drug Treatment Court and Veterans Treatment Court to help people recover from addictions.

In his private practice before being elected circuit judge, Whiteaker specialized in disability law. He also worked as an attorney for the Arkansas Workers Compensation Com-mission and the Social Security Administration.

He graduated from the University of Arkansas Law School in Little Rock in 1986 and went into practice with the firm Cook, Whiteaker and Associates.

Whiteaker and his wife, Terrie, have two adult children, Chris and Jesse, and one grandchild. He is a member of the First Free Will Baptist Church, where he serves as the worship pastor.

Robertson, Whiteaker’s opponent in the runoff, also received her law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She has practiced law for 27 years in state and federal courts in Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Texas.

Her cases have included workers compensation and Social Security as well as agriculture, business formation and litigation, child custody and divorce, financial and debt counseling, guardianship and estate planning, personal injury and wrongful death actions, product liability, probate and tax law.

In addition to her law practice, Robertson is a part-time district court judge in Craighead County.