Sharp County District Court Judge R.T. Starken has filed to run for the position he has held for more than a year but state officials remain uncertain if he can legally run for that office.
Under Arkansas law a judge may not run for re-election to a position to which he was appointed. But Starken says the two district courts he was appointed to -- Ash Flat and Cherokee Village -- were combined to form a new, separate court after his appointment and he is, therefore, eligible to run for re-election.
Starken said he was first appointed as Cherokee Village and Ash Flat district judge in January 2003. He said the positions were dissolved in April 2003 when the new central court was established. He was appointed to that position by Gov. Mike Huckabee to complete the term of former District Judge Kevin King. The term expires at the end of 2004.
Former attorney general Mark Pryor wrote an opinion to the governor about a similar issue in September 2001.
"An appointee to a district judgeship may not run to succeed himself after the expiration of the appointed term," he said.
He also said if the office of district judge remains a municipal office there is no provision governing the filling of vacancies.
Starken said he should be allowed to run for the office because the original positions he was appointed to in Ash Flat and Cherokee Village no longer exist.
"I wouldn't be succeeding myself because it's a different position," Starken said.
Robert Fisher, ombudsman for the state attorney general's office, agrees.
"He can't seek election to a position he was appointed to, but if it's a new position he can run for that," Fisher said.
Tim Humphries, chief counsel for the secretary of state's office, said all the state has to go by is the attorney general's opinion.
"I wouldn't say they were the final word on it, but that's the last opinion that was given," Humphries said. "All there is to go by right now is the opinion unless a court of law were to decide otherwise."
State Sen. Paul Miller has requested current attorney general Mike Beebe to present his own opinion on the issue. An opinion is expected soon, Miller said.
"What's bad is, the race is going on and we don't know whether he can really run or not," Miller said. "An attorney general's opinion is really the only way to clear this up."
Mark R. Johnson of Hardy also filed to run for the position against Starken. He was in court and unavailable for comment as of press time Monday.