Trading Felonies for Campaign Cash: A Look at Dan Kemp’s Ethics

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Based on the mailer that arrived at Blue Hog Report’s international headquarters yesterday (2/20/16), the primary selling point for the dark money supporting Judge Dan Kemp in the Chief Justice race is that Judge Kemp cannot be bought and is above reproach ethically. To wit:

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Of note in that mailer–aside from the fact that, yet again, it has come from a faceless dark-money outfit that is targeting Justice Goodson by painting her as a liberal friend of [insert scary music] trial lawyers [/scary music]–is a single sentence:

And there’s been nary a rumor about any ethics problems in his tenure.

Which brings me to this.

On October 28, 2014, Lea Ann Finn was arrested in Stone County on charges of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (Meth/Cocaine), which is a D felony; Furnishing Prohibited Articles, which is a B felony, Possession of less than 4 ounces of Marijuana, which is an A misdemeanor; and DWI-Drugs (1st Offense), which is an unclassified misdemeanor. At the time of her arrest, Ms. Finn was looking at a minimum of five years in prison (for the B felony) and up to 26 years in prison (if the B and D felonies ran consecutive). Ms. Finn’s case was assigned to Division 1, which is Judge Dan Kemp’s court.

On November 6, 2015, Judge Dan Kemp announced his candidacy for the position of Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

On November 12, 2015–less than a week after announcing his candidacy–Judge Kemp signed off on a plea agreement whereby Ms. Finn would plead guilty to the unclassified misdemeanor and the A misdemeanor and B and D felonies would be dismissed by the prosecutor.

“Wait,” you might be saying, “what about speedy trial? That was more than one year from arrest to plea agreement, and the docket does not say anything about a continuance that was chargeable to the defense pursuant to Ark. R. Crim. P. 28.2.” To which I would say, good eye, hypothetical narrative device. Assuming CourtConnect is correct in the entries it shows, Ms. Finn’s case would have been subject to dismissal with prejudice as of October 28, 2015.

Even if there was a continuance that was chargeable to Ms. Finn, however, a bigger issue arises when we look at the big picture.

As noted, Judge Kemp announced on November 6, 2015. On November 12, 2015, Judge Kemp signed off on a plea agreement that did away with two felonies–one of which carried a mandatory minimum of five years.

Oh…did I mention that Ms. Finn is the daughter of Kay and James Hinkle of Mountain View? Because she is.

Why does that matter? Because Stone County is not exactly large in terms of population. So, for the uninitiated, Kay Hinkle is a UCA Board Member. James Hinkle is part of the family that owned the independent Bank of Mountain View and the independent telephone company, the Mountain View Telephone Co.

Anyway, sixteen days after Judge Kemp signed off on Lea Ann Finn’s plea of guilty to an unclassified misdemeanor, Ms. Finn’s parents each donated $2,500.00 to Judge Kemp’s campaign:

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Her sister also donated $500 on that same date:

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A couple weeks later, Ms. Finn’s dad sent out this email:

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And therein lies the rub–and the reason for this post: In the absolute bestcase scenario, you still have a judge agreeing to a plea bargain where felony drug charges are dropped and a near-meaningless DWI-Drugs (1st offense) is the only charge to get a guilty plea. Even in that super happy version, the judge allows the state to turn a blind eye to offenses that would normally warrant a minimum five years in prison.

In the worst case scenario, however, that plea was in exchange for $5,500.00 in contributions less than a month after a candidacy was announced, and it got Judge Kemp an email endorsement/request for donations from a person in Stone County who carried more clout than 99% of the population up there.

In either event, and to borrow a theme from Judge Kemp’s earlier advertising, let’s go ahead and hold off on pretending like Judge Kemp is so without sin that he should be throwing a first stone at anyone. And, if he can’t throw that stone, no dark-money proxy should be chucking rocks on Kemp’s behalf unless and until Judge Kemp explains why agreeing to a dismissal of felony charges warrants thousands in campaign donations.