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Another ad pinning the blame for an inmate's overturned conviction on an Arkansas Court of Appeals judge began airing on television Tuesday, as contested judicial races intensify in the lead-up to next week's election.

The latest ad, which is paid for by the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee, claims that "violent criminals pray for judges like Bart Virden."

Virden is running for re-election to Court of Appeals District 2, which encompasses much of north-central Arkansas. His challenger is Mountain Home attorney Johnnie Copeland.

"I believe that voters prefer a positive message, and this is what my campaign has portrayed," Copeland said Tuesday in a text message. "I was surprised when I saw the negative ad against Judge Virden."

The ad mentions an opinion Virden wrote last fall that overturned the conviction of a North Little Rock man who had been sentenced to 40 years in prison for the rape of three girls. The spot ends with a supportive message about Copeland.

Similar ads, paid for by another Washington group, began airing recently against Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson, who is running for a spot on the Arkansas Supreme Court. That ad criticizes a different ruling by the Court of Appeals that involved Hixson and other judges.

"I can almost guess what the ad says," Virden, who had not seen the ad against him, told a reporter who contacted him while he was on the road Tuesday. After reviewing the message, he called it a "distortion at best."

In the case described by the ad, four other judges joined Virden in deciding to reverse the conviction of Edward Rogers, while two judges on the appeals panel dissented. The majority's decision was based on the fact that Rogers' eldest accuser had been convicted of theft, but the trial judge blocked that information from being presented as part of an effort by the defense to discredit the girl.

Despite winning his appeal, Rogers remained locked up at the East Arkansas Regional Unit in Brickeys on Tuesday. The prosecuting attorney could not be reached to see if he planned to try the case again.

The Republican State Leadership Committee also has run ads in support of David Sterling, who is running for the Arkansas Supreme Court against Hixson and incumbent Justice Courtney Goodson.

The group reported raising more than $4.5 million in the first three months of 2018, including a $100,000 donation from Walmart.

A spokesman for the leadership committee said Copeland is an experienced prosecutor who "represents Arkansas' values" better than Virden.

Another outside group that has spent money on TV ads in this year's Supreme Court race, the Judicial Crisis Network, does not reveal its donors. The conservative group had not purchased ads in the Court of Appeals race as of Tuesday.

Metro on 05/16/2018

Print Headline: Rape-decision ad targets Virden; GOP group in D.C. backing Copeland for Court of Appeals

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