Does failure to pay license fee on time disqualify judges from office? Issue rocks Arkansas

A provision in the Arkansas Constitution is causing some problems for judicial candidates who failed to pay licensing fees on time, including a court of appeals judge who is running for the state supreme court.

A state constitutional provision requires appellate and supreme court judges to have been licensed lawyers in the state for eight years, the Log Cabin Democrat reports. The requirement is six years for circuit judges and four years for district judges. At issue is whether suspension for failing to pay licensing fees on time is a bar to judicial office.

Fifty-nine sitting judges have had their licenses suspended for late payment of license fees, according to the Blue Hog Report blog.

At least four suits have been filed challenging judicial candidates’ qualification to hold office, Arkansas News. One of the challenged candidates, Judge H.G. Foster of Faulkner County, filed a petition on Monday asking the state supreme court to declare that he is qualified to hold office, even though his license was suspended four times in the last six years for failure to pay his licensing fees on time.

Foster argues an automatic suspension for failing to pay license fees is not considered a suspension under lawyer ethics rules. As a result, he says, he is qualified to serve.

In another case, a specially appointed judge ruled a lawyer was not qualified to run for a Pulaski County judgeship because her law license was briefly suspended for nonpayment. After the ruling, the incumbent judge was challenged on the same ground.

A separate Arkansas News story reports that Court of Appeals Judge Rhonda Wood was suspended briefly in 2008 for failure to pay licensing fees. Wood says she paid the fee on time, but she wrongly made out the check for $100 instead of the required $200. She says she immediately paid the money when she was notified of the problem three days after the deadline.

Wood said in a statement that she wasn’t aware of the suspension until she learned of it from the news media. She has been an appeals court judge since 2013 and a circuit judge from 2007 to 2012. She is unopposed in her bid for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“I believe I meet the qualifications to serve on the Arkansas Supreme Court and I am prepared to defend my right to do so,” Wood said in a statement.

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