A week ago today, Circuit Judge John Cole disqualified lawyer Valerie Thompson Bailey from challenging Circuit Judge Tim Fox in the May judicial election. Cole, who was specially appointed to hear the case after all Pulaski County circuit judges recused, found that Bailey’s administrative suspension for non-payment of yearly bar dues amounted to a violation of Amendment 80, sec. 16, which requires that candidates for circuit judge “shall have been licensed attorneys of this state for at least six years immediately preceding the date of assuming office.”
Now, I don’t agree with Judge Cole’s decision, but that’s a story for a different post. It’s what he said in announcing his decision that is really relevant at the moment:
A suspension is a suspension is suspension. It doesn’t matter if it’s administrative or disciplinary.
Assuming Judge Cole was correct in his assessment, the impact of that decision could prove to extend well beyond Ms. Bailey. Over in Faulkner County — because of course a post about a judicial candidate would lead us to Faulkner County — Angela Byrd is running for circuit judge, District 20, Division 4, a seat currently held by Judge David Clark.
Given the language of the Bailey decision, however, it would appear that Ms. Byrd is similarly ineligible to run for judge:
In Arkansas, yearly bar dues become payable on January 1 of each year, and a lawyer has until March 1 to pay them. Because March 1 fell on a Saturday this year, that deadline rolled over to March 3. Then, because of snow and ice on March 3, a grace period was extended until March 5.
Now, perhaps you are thinking, “Ms. Byrd’s was suspended for a very short time, while Ms. Bailey’s was suspended much longer; doesn’t that make a difference?” Not according to Judge Cole, it doesn’t. A suspension is a suspension is a suspension, and a person — including Ms. Byrd — who has been licensed for far more than six years, but who happens to have an administrative suspension inside of the past six years, is ineligible to run for circuit judge.
It may seem odd, but, unless someone gets booted from the ballot because of that decision and then successfully challenges the disqualification, that’s the current state of things.