Tuesday, October 18, 2016

TOP STORY >> Judge runoff pits O’Bryan, McGue

Leader staff writer

Two candidates will again square off for the Lonoke County District Judge-Northern Division in a runoff set to coincide with the Tuesday, Nov. 8 general election. Early voting starts Monday.

In the March primary three-way race, Clinton “Clint” D. McGue took 4,104 votes, but the 38.83 percent was short of the over 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.

Judge Joseph “Joe” H. O’Bryan came in second with 3,608 votes, or 34.13 percent, while the third man in the race, Cabot attorney John Flynn, garnered 2,858 votes — 27.04 percent. Flynn has endorsed McGue.

The winner will take office in January.


O’Bryan, who was first elected in 1990, is running for re-election, while McGue, Ward’s city attorney and a Cabot attorney, is challenging him in a rematch.

The District Court of Lonoke County, Northern Division, includes the courts at Cabot and Ward, as well as the northern Lonoke County area.

Like the races for circuit judge, the contests for district judge are nonpartisan.

District courts have jurisdiction over misdemeanor cases, violations of city ordinances, traffic violations and civil matters with not more than $5,000 in controversy. A small-claims division of the district court makes it possible for citizens to represent themselves in civil-claims cases.

Judges serve four-year terms, and must be at least 26 years old, a registered voter in the district and have practiced law for a minimum of three years.If elected, a judge can remain in private practice because the position is considered part time.


O’Bryan graduated from Cabot High School in 1967 and from Baylor Law School at Waco, Texas, in 1973. He has been an attorney in the Cabot area for 42 years and served for five years as Juvenile Referee for the Cabot court. He was elected judge in 1991.

Under O’Bryan there have been a number of changes and improvements to the Cabot District Court, he said.

To keep up with the increased caseload, he said a computerized docketing system replaced the traditional record keeping system. The court is now served by three court clerks in Cabot and one in Ward.

Another change that has occurred during O’Bryan’s tenure has been the expansion of community service as a means for those unable to pay their fines to settle their balances.

Additionally, the district court sponsored defensive driving classes for young traffic offenders and programs for persons arrested in domestic battery situations.

The district court recently implemented a video system that allows jailed defendants to appear in court without being transported from the jail in Lonoke to the Cabot courtroom.

O’Bryan also added a probation department, making it possible to order special conditions of probation appropriate to the specific case such as drug testing, counseling, anger management classes, GED testing, community service work, jail requirements, AA and NA meetings, and fine/restitution payments.

He also established the North Lonoke County DWI Course. The program has worked with DWI offenders in Cabot, Austin, Ward, Lonoke and Carlisle.

O’Bryan said his court has seen positive results because of the program and he plans to expand the program if reelected.

For offenders with multi offenses, he said, “It’s urgent that we get them help.”

As well, he would institute a program to collect unpaid fines that are more than one year old.


This last June, O’Bryan stopped supervised probation at Cabot District Court leading to the City of Cabot to terminate its contract with private company CS Background.

CS Background’s owner, Jeffery Everetts, 59, of Batesville was accused of sexually abusing at least one probationer and was arrested in May by State Police after an investigation requested by Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham.

Everetts was charged with third-degree attempted sexual assault, a felony.

Since then, O’Bryan and Cabot secured the services of Southwest Probation Services of Arkadelphia.

On Aug. 21, 2015, O’Bryan was arrested and charged with third-degree domestic battery for grabbing his girlfriend by the throat and throwing her onto a table.

She dropped the charges, which were then dismissed by Faulkner County District Court Judge David Reynolds, who was appointed to the case, last November.

O’Bryan has three children, Jessica Wallace of Little Rock and Stephanie O’Bryan of Cabot and the late Eric O’Bryan.

About how he approaches his job, O’Bryan said then, “Always listen to both sides is what you’ve got to do. Not everybody does that. It’s not easy to do.”


McGue grew up in Cabot and earned a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in Washington. After attending Chicago-Kent College of Law, McGue received his law degree in 1994.

While attending school, McGue worked for Sen. David Pryor in Washington and Little Rock and Attorney General Winston Bryant.

After graduation, McGue opened a practice in Cabot in 1994. He has been Ward’s city attorney for more than 20 years, spending a lot time in both municipal and district court.

He called seeking the seat a “natural progression” and a “civic calling.”


He said he believes the district court office is a good fit for him.

“I think I could serve the public well…Ideally, (I’d like) to make it so district court isn’t frightening for anyone,” since it’s usually their first point of contact in the court system. He believes a good judge has the right mindset and attitude, being “even-headed and fair, and tough and compassionate at the same time,” he said.

McGue explained his reason for running this way: “I’m a part of this community, and it’s a part of me,” he said McGue’s experience includes working for the Arkansas Attorney General Office’s civil division, being Allport city judge, serving as a prosecuting attorney in Ward and operating his own firm.

He is a member of the American Bar Association, Arkansas Bar Association, Lonoke County Bar Associ-ation, Arkansas City Attorney Association, International Municipal Lawyers Associ-ation, Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, Cabot Housing Authority board and the advisory board of Community Bank of Cabot.

In addition, McGue was a founding board member of the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) of Lonoke County, which began in 1999. He is no longer a member.

McGue is a 15-year member of the Cabot Housing Authority Commission and the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.

Whether pro bono or for pay, McGue has lent his professional expertise to a number of smaller community groups, such as the Cabot School District, the Cabot Chamber of Commerce and various commissions and committees.