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Group to police judicial-election ads

Vows to condemn false ads by Spencer Willems | January 22, 2016 at 1:03 a.m.

A committee of judges and attorneys announced Thursday the group will try to referee upcoming judicial elections and is asking candidates to condemn any false or misleading advertising about other candidates from third-party groups.

Formed in 2015 on the recommendation of a working group of judges and attorneys in 2012, the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct and Education Committee wants to provide voters with more information about the judges and attorneys running in the nonpartisan March 1 appellate court races, which includes the Arkansas Supreme Court. The committee also is asking candidates to sign a pledge to disavow any false advertising that could undermine the judiciary.

Though Arkansas voters haven't yet been inundated by TV and radio ads for this year's two Supreme Court races and two Arkansas Court of Appeals races, the group's announcement said "if past is prologue," the next six weeks of campaigning could prove expensive and ugly.

Former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck said Thursday apart from providing voters with information about appellate court candidates, the committee has formed a "rapid response" team to handle complaints from candidates who feel they've been untruthfully or unfairly smeared in a recent advertisement.

If the team -- a group of unaffiliated attorneys, judges and media members -- finds an advertisement to be untruthful or misleading, it will ask the campaign or third-party group running it to stop.

If they don't, Tuck said, the team will publicly chastise the advertisement and it will ask the campaign that's not targeted by the ad to do the same.

Tuck insisted the committee isn't there to police negative ads, just false or misleading ones.

"[The ads] will be coming. I'm sure they will be. Whether it's the candidates themselves or the, what I call the 'out of state money' or 'dark money,'" she said. "It could be found to be a false representation or it could be truthful. If it's truthful, then too bad. That's the way it is. [The committee] is not going to stop negative advertising. That's freedom. It's all about making sure that the advertising doesn't make false representation."

Tuck said all members of the rapid response team and the full committee haven't endorsed any judicial candidate and they'll remain neutral through the election.

In 2014, attorney Tim Cullen ran for an opening on the Supreme Court against Robin Wynne, who won with 52 percent of the vote.

During the campaign, an ad paid for by a group called the Law Enforcement Alliance of America alleged Cullen thought child pornography was a "victimless crime."

Cullen had been appointed to represent a defendant charged with possessing child pornography and attempting to entice a minor. He had argued his client's sentencing enhancement was improper. Cullen has said the ad was reckless because he was doing his job in defending his client.

Tuck said that race highlighted the need to form the committee. When asked if she thought the committee could have affected the outcome of the 2014 election, she said she didn't know.

"That's Monday morning quarterbacking," Tuck said. "In political races, you can never know."

NW News on 01/22/2016

Print Headline: Group to police judicial-election ads

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