Who’ll be your judge? It’s up to you!

Judges are elected in Arkansas, so the choice of who will sit on the bench in your district is up to you. Judicial elections are non-partisan and candidates cannot publicly say if they are Democrat or Republican. So how will you make your choice?

This blog series is intended to introduce you to each candidate as you decide which ones deserve your vote! The decisions we make as voters have a lasting impact on our lives—these judges make decisions about criminal issues, family issues, & your disputes with your neighbor. Don’t take that responsibility lightly.

Getting to Know Your Candidates

Lion Legal Services asked all of the candidates the same questions and limited the answers to 100 words. We formatted the Q&A here for readability, but we did not make any changes in content. The responses are verbatim from the candidates themselves.

Over the next several weeks, we will share profiles of each judicial candidate in Central Arkansas.

Lion Legal Services is not endorsing or analyzing or comparing these candidates. We are simply giving you an opportunity to get to know them and their judicial philosophies, in their own words.

Shawn Johnson for Judge: AR District 6, Div. 14

Shawn Johnson for Arkansas Circuit JudgePlease provide a short statement of your biographical information. 
Shawn is an Eagle Scout who graduated from Hendrix College where he double-majored in Politics and History. He is the recipient of a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship and earned a master’s degree in Medieval History from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Shawn has worked as a public servant for nearly twenty years—as an employee of the White House for the Clinton Administration, as a staff assistant to U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers, as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson, and for the past thirteen years as an Assistant Attorney General in the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office.

What makes you uniquely qualified for this position? 
Shawn’s commitment to public service earned him a recommendation for U.S. Attorney in 2009. His continued commitment to public service has propelled him to a near thirteen-year tenure at the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office where he has fought the robocalls and the opioid crisis. Shawn has worked for Democrats and Republicans; he has served as a plaintiff’s and defendant’s lawyer; he has litigated cases to verdict at all levels of the state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. And finally, his patience and judicial temperament is ideal for this role.

What is your general judicial philosophy? What policy change would you advocate for in our judicial system? 
As a judicial law clerk helping to shape and compose decisions for a federal judge, Shawn learned the importance of resisting results-oriented approaches to the law. Decisions should objectively be based upon the facts and law of each case. Additionally, courts need to find ways to adapt and modernize to allow lawyers and litigants greater access to the inner workings and calendars of courts. In providing greater access to information, we improve efficiency and organization within the legal system.

Arkansas has the lowest number of attorneys per capita of any state in the nation & a very low median income, meaning traditional legal services are unaffordable for many Arkansans. What individual, practical steps will you take in your courtroom to increase meaningful access to the justice system if you are elected? 
Shawn believes that legal representation should be available in some form to all who desire representation. Shawn would like to explore ways in which lawyers and law students—on a broader scale—can engage in limited-scope representations of clients in order to reduce costs and make legal representation accessible and available to Arkansans. This goal can be accomplished through relationships and dialog with the state’s law schools and their clinic programs as well as the bar associations.

Tom Barron for Judge: AR District 6, Div. 14

Tom Barron for Arkansas Circuit JudgePlease provide a short statement of your biographical information. 
I’m a Pulaski County native and third-generation Little Rock attorney. I was appointed to the Arkansas Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program Committee by the Supreme Court in 2007 and served as Chair. In 2014, I received the Arkansas JLAP Justice Robert L. Brown Community Support Award. I served as a board member and Chair of Friends of Recovery Foundation, Inc. I’m a Master of the Bench in Judge Henry Woods American Inn of Court. Throughout my career, I’ve donated my time and legal services to VOCALS. I’m a cyclist, animal-rescuer, married to my wife, Holly, for 16+ years, and co-parent in raising our wonderful, 20-year-old son.

What makes you uniquely qualified for this position? 
Circuit judges are trial judges and need real-world, trial experience. My practice is primarily trial work and I’ve practiced in our circuit courts for over 35 years, handling civil and criminal cases. I’ve served many times as a special judge in our circuit courts and I have been endorsed by retired circuit judges Ellen Brantley, Collins Kilgore, and John Plegge, and prominent attorney James Moody, Sr. I have an AV Preeminent® rating by Martindale-Hubbell, meaning my peers give me the highest marks for my legal ability and ethics.

What is your general judicial philosophy? What policy change would you advocate for in our judicial system? 
Circuit judges decide cases based solely upon the facts as presented and the law as written. Everyone has a right to be heard and everyone, no matter their station in life, should be treated with dignity and respect. We are in the midst of a drug epidemic that we can’t arrest our way out of. As someone in recovery and the parent of a child in recovery, I bring a unique perspective to this issue. Addiction can present in all manners of cases that come before the courts. Circuit courts should have the means to fast track people with addictions into treatment and provide them wrap-around services, with the goal of helping them get better.

Arkansas has the lowest number of attorneys per capita of any state in the nation & a very low median income, meaning traditional legal services are unaffordable for many Arkansans. What individual, practical steps will you take in your courtroom to increase meaningful access to the justice system if you are elected? 
I would strongly encourage our lawyers and law firms to volunteer their time and money to VOCALS and Access to Justice. In regard to pro se litigants, I would not discourage them from proceeding in appropriate civil cases. I would explore the use of relatively simple and accessible technology, such as Skype, to limit the number of personal appearances and the appropriate use of smartphones or similar devices as a means of presenting evidence. We also need to make sure we have enough translators available in the courtroom for non-English speakers.

Andy Ballard for Judge: AR District 6, Div. 14

Andy Ballard for Arkansas Circuit JudgePlease provide a short statement of your biographical information. 
Ballard graduated from the William H. Bowen School of Law and received his BA in Government and International Politics from George Mason University. He is a member of the Pulaski County and Arkansas Bar Associations. Ballard and his wife, Lisa, are partners at Ballard and Ballard PA in North Little Rock. Ballard has presented multiple CLE training classes. Ballard and his wife, Lisa, live in North Little Rock and attend and are members of the Cathedral of St Andrew. He and his wife are parents of three adult daughters, Mary Ann Abney (Michael), Molly Murdock, and Maddy Barker (Alex).

What makes you uniquely qualified for this position? 
70 percent (1010) of 14th Division’s docket is Domestic Relations and 30% (441) is Probate. Therefore, 14th division is commonly called a “Family Law Court” within the legal profession.

I am the only candidate in this race who has dedicated his practice to families and is certified to represent children. The 14th Division (a family law court) helps resolve problems in the everyday lives of families and children. My knowledge and experience guarantee each family who comes before this court has a well-informed judge who gets it. Family life comes with many challenges, which Lisa and I understand. Our story and my experience make me best suited to serve you as your next family law judge who cares.

What is your general judicial philosophy? What policy change would you advocate for in our judicial system? 
My general judicial philosophy is not to legislate from the bench and to make sure my rulings are made within the confines of the law. I do not believe in judges having an agenda or being advocates for any cause. Judges should be impartial fact-finders and apply the laws as written. However, I would like to see the state constitution amended to require judicial candidates to have substantial experience in the subject matter they will preside over. There is no requirement for an attorney to have experience in the subject matter they will preside over if elected. This is a disservice to voters and all citizens. Experience with making decisions for families is imperative for a person to make the hard decisions that have such a profound impact on children and families.

Arkansas has the lowest number of attorneys per capita of any state in the nation & a very low median income, meaning traditional legal services are unaffordable for many Arkansans. What individual, practical steps will you take in your courtroom to increase meaningful access to the justice system if you are elected? 
I will apply the law evenly to both those represented by counsel and those who are not. I will also utilize AOC funded programs for parties who qualify. Again, I take this moment to reiterate a judge should not have an agenda or a cause other than to serve as an impartial and fair judge.