In a 3-1 ruling, the state Ethics Commission on Friday decided that Circuit Judge Susan Weaver violated the law by failing to note that her campaign paid for an ad in a magazine in May 2018.
But the commission declined to sanction Weaver based on good cause. Weaver and a co-owner of the magazine testified that the campaign asked in an email for the magazine to correct the ad before publication to specify who paid for it, but the magazine didn’t do so.
Weaver is a former district judge for Faulkner and Van Buren counties who narrowly defeated Andrea Woods, corporate counsel and executive president of Nabholz Construction, for the Division 1 position in the 20th Judicial Circuit in May 2018.
Woods filed a complaint against Weaver after the election, triggering the investigation, commission Director Graham Sloan said after the meeting.
Commissioners Sybil Jordan Hampton of Little Rock, Lori Klein of Searcy and Ashley Driver Younger of Little Rock voted to approve a motion to find that Weaver violated state law, but not to sanction her for it. Chairman Tony Juneau of Rogers dissented.
Under state law, the commission may sanction ethics law violators with a letter of caution, reprimand or warning and/or fines ranging from $50 to $2,000 per violation.
The commission also voted 4-0 to deny Weaver’s motion to declare the laws under which the commission operates to be unconstitutional.
Weaver’s attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, told the commission, “We may wish to appeal on the question of constitutionality and whether a violation was found at all.”
Under Arkansas Code Annotated 7-6-228, campaign signs, literature and other printed materials must clearly contain the words “Paid for by” followed by the name of the candidate, committee or person who paid for the material.
Commission attorney Raymond Boyles said it was clear that Weaver wanted language in her ad in the Faulkner Lifestyle magazine to specify that her campaign paid for it, but that language wasn’t in the publication and “that has created a violation.”
Rosenzweig said, “It is our position that Judge Weaver did everything she could to comply with [the law].
“There is no dispute that Judge Weaver requested that the tag line be put in,” Rosenzweig said. He said the commission has on record an affidavit by one of the magazine owners saying it was their fault and not Weaver’s.
“It is our position that the commission should exonerate Judge Weaver of any liability or responsibility or a fine, that [there is] good cause not to sanction her in any way,” he said.
Lori Quinn, co-owner of the Faulkner Lifestyle magazine, testified that she agreed with the affidavit of Brandy Strain-Dayer, the other co-owner.
“This particular ad was sent to proof and we missed an email [in which] they replied it was not correct and we just missed it,” Quinn said.
“We have a very short window between the time we proof them and go to press,” she said. “This was our second or third issue of that magazine so we were still learning that process and what works best. … We will not forget to put that on a public ad ever again, I promise.”
Woods told the commission that it’s very difficult to file an ethics complaint in a judicial race, no matter when one files it.
“If you do it during the race, it looks like you are trying to exert some strategy during the campaign to harm your opponent. If you do it afterwards, it is sour grapes or trying to hurt someone’s reputation,” she said.
“I do want to point out that it doesn’t appear any corrections were requested to be published,” Woods said. “I would have requested a correction.”
The “paid for by” language required on campaign ads is to notify the public of who is paying for ads, and “who is paying for what is extremely relevant today, extremely relevant if you look at what is going on at the Capitol and what is happening with legislators and judges going to prison,” she said.
In March 2016, Weaver received a public letter of caution from the commission in a settlement of a complaint in which she agreed that she violated state law by failing to disclose on her Statement of Financial Interest for 2014 her income as district court judge.
Rosenzweig said he filed a motion asking the commission to declare the state laws under which it operates unconstitutional “even though we know that this commission has no power to declare anything unconstitutional.
“But the Arkansas Supreme Court … has decided that a challenge to the constitutionality must be brought in the administrative process, so we have done so,” he said.
“It is our position that it violates due process for the same entity that makes the charge or makes a finding of probable cause to then decide the merits of the case,” Rosenzweig said. “Similar procedures had been in effect both on the Committee on Professional Conduct and the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission. In both instances, those entities, which are under the more direct control of the state Supreme Court, have changed their policies to essentially have a charging panel and a hearing panel, so you don’t have the mixing of the roles to which I refer.”
Metro on 01/19/2019
Print Headline: Judge broke the law, state ethics panel says, but campaign violation draws no sanctions