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.

LaTonya Austin for Judge: AR District 6, Div. 9

LaTonya Austin for Arkansas Circuit JudgePlease provide a short statement of your biographical information. 
Born and raised in Little Rock, AR, I’m a product of LRCHS, wife to Lee Honorable, and mother to 3 daughters. I obtained my Psychology Degree from UA Fayetteville and my JD from Bowen School of Law. I have served the citizens of Pulaski County as a prosecutor, public defender, city attorney, and private litigating attorney. I focus heavily on Family, Probate, Civil, and Criminal Law. I have sat as a Special Judge in District and Circuit Courts. I am a Neutral Hearing Officer for the PCHA and a Helpline Attorney for CALS. I am active in a number of community organizations.

What makes you uniquely qualified for this position? 
I’m a Pulaski County resident and community investor. While this position covers Pulaski and Perry Counties, much can be said for a judge who lives in and understands the specific needs of the citizens (and attorneys) of the majority of the jurisdiction. That is me. My deep understanding of the unique issues facing our community makes me uniquely qualified to be a relatable, informed, practical and equitable jurist. As a trial attorney and special judge in the areas of law on the 9th Division docket, I have worked with and talked to litigators who work in court every day. My platform is desired and needed in this district. 

What is your general judicial philosophy? What policy change would you advocate for in our judicial system? 
I have a 3-D platform: Using judicial DISCRETION to DECREASE the negative perception of the bench, while reaching a fair DISPOSITION of cases. My personal and professional experiences have taught me how to do this in a way that will transform the public’s opinion of the judiciary as a whole. Attorneys and pro se litigants will be able to “tell their story” in a way that makes the litigant more than a 2-dimensional pleading or document – a real person, with real issues, looking for a real solution. I will offer that solution. #MoreThanWhatsOnPaper

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 take the knowledge that I have gained from working at Center for Arkansas Legal Services, and partnering with the W. Harold Flowers Law Society and Arkansas Access to Justice to make diligent inquiries into barriers preventing access to justice. I will also use the judicial discretion mentioned above to utilize every available resource to make sure that individuals without financial resources to hire effective counsel can still receive competent, equal and equitable legal representation through the use of appointments, referrals, or other appropriate tools in the court’s bag of justice. 

Andy Gill for Judge: AR District 6, Div. 9

Andy Gill for Arkansas Circuit JudgePlease provide a short statement of your biographical information. 
Hello, I’m Judge Andy Gill. My wife, Mandy and I have been married for 16 years. We have two children, ages 10 and 12 (a dog and two cats). I grew up on the Heifer Ranch in Perryville before graduating from Lyon College. I attended the night program at the Bowen School of Law where I graduated with high honors. I have 14 years’ experience as a prosecutor, I have been in private practice, and I have 7 years’ experience as an elected judge. I enjoy coaching youth sports and any kind of outdoor activity that I can get my kids interested in.

What makes you uniquely qualified for this position? 
9th Division has traditionally been the mental health court and the drug court. I worked in the mental health field as a case manager before law school, and I have worked with drug courts for a decade. I serve on the Arkansas Drug Court Professionals board and was named the Drug Court Attorney of the Year in 2018.

In my years in practice and on the bench, I have handled a wide variety of cases, and while judicial dockets change with each administrative plan, experience with mental health and addiction treatment has wide application.

What is your general judicial philosophy? What policy change would you advocate for in our judicial system? 
Going to court as a litigant is hard. Being a good lawyer is hard. There is no reason for a judge to make those experiences any harder than necessary. I have found that much of being a judge is finding balance. I try to be as accommodating as possible, without losing control of my courtroom or docket. I try to be as predictable as possible, while still giving each case the individual consideration it deserves. I try to move cases along but without forcing parties to try cases before they have had time to do the necessary work.

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? 
Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Time is money.” That is even truer today, especially in the legal system. The less time it takes attorneys to get to a just result, the less they need to charge and more people get access to representation. To lessen this time, I start on time. Sometimes parties ask for a few minutes to work on a resolution. That is fine, but they aren’t waiting on me.  I allow testimony by written deposition when appropriate, so attorneys don’t need to build in the cost of a hearing when one isn’t necessary.  I’m mindful and respectful of the benefits of limited scope representation.