Judge bars Arkansas circuit court candidate from election

January 7, 2020 GMT

LITTLE ROCK. Ark. (AP) — A man seeking a seat on an Arkansas circuit court isn’t qualified to run for the judgeship because of a misdemeanor traffic offense he committed as a teenager, a judge ruled.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza called his own decision to bar Adam Weeks from running for the 3rd Judicial District seat “absurd,” but he said state constitution bars people with convictions for so-called infamous crimes —- crimes that involve acts of deceit, fraud or false statement —- from running for certain elected offices.

Weeks, a 43-year-old Lawrence County judge, pleaded guilty in 1994 to presenting fake car tags. Court records show that at the time, his parents allowed him to use a car from a lot they owned while his car was undergoing repairs.

Piazza concluded Monday that Weeks’ guilty plea disqualified him from running for the judgeship in the March 3 election, saying that the state appeals court has previously ruled that displaying fake tags involves dishonesty. In his decision, Piazza expressed frustration with “the broadness and unyielding language” of the state constitution.

“These charges ... were the result of a 19-22 year old college student who, at worst, made some immature, naive mistakes,” Piazza wrote. “That the fictitious tag misdemeanor now deems Judge Weeks unfit to run for office is, in the view of this court, absurd.

“However, it is the very rule of law this restriction seeks to preserve, albeit unfairly applied, which binds the hands of this Court and requires the language of the Arkansas Constitution be applied without further consideration,” Piazza continued.

Weeks said in a statement Monday that he will appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“In his ruling Judge Chris Piazza made it clear that he believes that it’s ‘absurd’ that the law requires that I be denied an opportunity to run for office due to a minor incident that occurred when I was 18 years old,” Weeks said.

Weeks’ local judgeship, which he was elected to in 2014, is not covered by the provision that was used to disqualify him from the circuit court seat election.

The 3rd Judicial District covers Jackson, Lawrence, Randolph and Sharp counties in northeastern Arkansas. Two candidates are still in the running for the judgeship: Joe Grider, of Pocahontas, and Timothy T. Watson Sr., of Newport.

Judy Miller, a Randolph County voter, filed a lawsuit on Dec. 6 challenging Weeks’ candidacy. Miller’s lawyer, Chris Burks, has also disqualified another candidate from running for circuit judge in Pulaski County for infamous crimes.

Burks, an Arkansas election law specialist, won a decision from Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen in October to bar Jim Wyatt from running for circuit judge in the 6th Judicial Circuit. Burks presented court records showing Wyatt pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts for writing bad checks.

Wyatt is appealing the ruling, but in November, the state Supreme Court declined to expedite the case.