Judges

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Howard, George, Jr.

George Howard Jr. was a trailblazing African-American attorney and judge in the second half of the twentieth century. After becoming one of the first black graduates of the University of Arkansas School of Law, he pursued a career dedicated to the expansion and guarantee of civil rights for all citizens. He became the first African American to be appointed to numerous Arkansas judicial posts, including the Supreme Court of Arkansas. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1994. George Howard Jr. was born on May 13, 1924, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) to George Howard and Sara Howard, who was a public school teacher. He received his early education in Pine Bluff but left home to serve …

Jesson, Bradley Dean

Bradley Dean Jesson was a lawyer and political activist who became chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. In the historic school-funding case Lake View School District No. 25 v. Huckabee, Jesson played a pivotal role in settling the long legal battle to reform the funding and supervision of Arkansas public schools so that they served all children equally and adequately. Jesson, who practiced law at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and who was known for his dignified and courteous manner as well as for his legal scholarship, first came to prominence as a confidant and adviser for Governor Dale Bumpers. Bradley D. Jesson was born on January 26, 1932, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the son of Dean Abraham Jesson, who was …

Johnson, Glenn T.

Glenn T. Johnson was a trailblazing judge in the latter half of the twentieth century. Born in Arkansas, he spent most of his professional life in Illinois, serving in a number of public positions in a career dedicated to public service. Johnson was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2006. Glenn T. Johnson was born in Washington (Hempstead County) on July 19, 1917, to Floyd Johnson and Reola Thompson Johnson. As the family moved around the state, he received his early education Washington, then Hope (Hempstead County), and finally Hot Springs (Garland County), where he graduated from Langston High School. Johnson earned a BS from Wilberforce University in Ohio, graduating in 1941. After college, he served in …

Johnson, James Douglas “Justice Jim”

James Douglas “Justice Jim” Johnson served as an Arkansas state senator and an associate justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court in the 1950s and 1960s. He was an outspoken segregationist and ran unsuccessfully against Orval Faubus for governor in 1956. In the 1966 race for Arkansas governor, he became the first Democrat since Reconstruction to lose to a Republican. Johnson helped to make school desegregation a major political issue in the state by protesting the integration of the Hoxie School District in Hoxie (Lawrence County), as well as by working to get an anti-federalist amendment added to the state constitution. Jim Johnson was born on August 20, 1924, in Crossett (Ashley County) to T. W. Johnson and Myrtle Long Johnson, …

Kizer, Bernice Lichty Parker

Bernice Lichty Parker Kizer was a lawyer and a path-breaking state legislator and judge in Arkansas in the second half of the twentieth century. After almost fifteen years in the Arkansas General Assembly, Kizer stepped down to seek election as a probate judge. Her subsequent victory made her the first woman in state history to be elected to a judgeship. Bernice Lichty was born on August 14, 1915, in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) to E. C. Lichty and Opal Lichty. She graduated from Fort Smith High School in 1932 and worked for two years as a grocery checker at Fort Smith’s first self-serve grocery store in order to save money for college. She initially attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, …

Lacy, Thomas J.

Thomas J. Lacy was a leader of the Arkansas legal community in the early days of statehood. One of the original members of the Supreme Court of Arkansas, he served for nine years before ill health forced him to step down in 1845. Thomas J. Lacy was born around 1806 in Rockingham County in North Carolina. The son of Batie Cocke Lacy and Elizabeth Overton Lacy, he was educated at what became the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, reportedly graduating at the top of his class in 1825. Following graduation, he read law in the Springfield, Kentucky, office of John Pope, an ally of Andrew Jackson who would later serve as territorial governor in Arkansas. From Kentucky, Lacy …

Mansfield, William Walker

William Walker Mansfield was a lawyer, legislator, circuit judge, and associate justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. The Sebastian County town of Mansfield is believed to be named in his honor. William Walker Mansfield was born on January 16, 1830, in Scottsville, Kentucky, the son of Colonel George Washington Mansfield and Frances Cockrill Mansfield. Mansfield received a “common-school” education before studying law under Judge William V. Loving in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He was admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1852. A short time later, Mansfield corresponded with fellow Kentucky native and noted Arkansas politician and attorney David Walker in Fayetteville (Washington County) about possible opportunities in the legal field within the state. Despite Walker’s encouragement to consider a practice in …

Mays, Richard Leon

Richard Leon Mays was an early civil rights attorney during the struggles to integrate public facilities and end bias in Arkansas courts and law enforcement. He was in the first group of African Americans to be elected to the Arkansas General Assembly in the twentieth century and became the second African American to be a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. Governor Bill Clinton appointed him to the court in 1979. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2016. Richard L. Mays was born on August 5, 1943, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the younger of two sons of Barnett G. Mays and Dorothy Mae Greenlee Mays. Although the family lived in an integrated neighborhood on …

McHaney, Edgar Lafayette

Edgar McHaney contributed to legal proceedings that changed constitutional law in the United States. With co-counsel Scipio Africanus Jones, he appealed the convictions of twelve men convicted of murder after the 1919 Elaine Massacre. The case of six of the men, Moore v. Dempsey, was eventually heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, and a precedent-setting decision allowed federal courts to override state appellate courts if constitutional rights were denied. McHaney also served for a short time in the Arkansas House of Representatives before a long tenure on the Arkansas Supreme Court. Born on November 6, 1876, in Gibson, Tennessee, Edgar Lafayette McHaney was one of nine children of William W. McHaney and Mary Ellen Hicks McHaney. He grew up on …

Miller, John Elvis

John Elvis Miller, the son of a Confederate veteran, had a distinguished career in the law, sandwiched around a political career that took him to the U.S. Senate in one of the most startling Arkansas elections of the twentieth century. He was a prosecuting attorney, a congressman, and a senator, resigning the last position in 1941 when President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him U.S. judge for the Western District of Arkansas. John E. Miller was born on May 15, 1888, in Stoddard County, Missouri, the son of John A. and Mary Harper Miller. As a child, he helped his parents and seven siblings raise cotton and corn on their Missouri bootheel farm. When he finished the ninth grade, he took an …

Neal, Olly, Jr.

Olly Neal Jr. headed up a community health clinic in Marianna (Lee County) in the 1970s, became the first black district prosecuting attorney in Arkansas, and served as a circuit court judge and on the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Historian Grif Stockley described him as a civil rights activist, political agitator, Arkansas Delta advocate, and a “black devil incarnate to many of Marianna’s whites.” Olly Neal Jr. was born on July 13, 1941, on a farm eleven miles west of Marianna in the rural New Hope community to Ollie Neal and Willie Beatrice Jones Neal. Neal grew up poor in a home with no electricity. His parents impressed upon him and his twelve siblings the importance of education. Neal’s father …

Newbern, William David

William David Newbern, who chased the twin passions of music and law, devoted a career to soldiering, teaching, judging, and being a troubadour. He taught law, spent eighteen months as a judge on the first Arkansas Court of Appeals, served fourteen years on the Arkansas Supreme Court, and was a state utility regulator, a special master for the Supreme Court, and manager of a folk music and cultural center in the Arkansas Ozarks. He retired from the Supreme Court in 1998 to devote more of his energies to music. He sang and played several instruments in many groups covering many genres. David Newbern was born on May 28, 1937, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His father, Charles Banks Newbern, was a …

Overton, William Ray

William Ray Overton was a U.S. district judge from 1979 to 1987 and is best known for his ruling in the McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education court case, which held the teaching of creationism to be unconstitutional. William Ray Overton was born on September 19, 1939, in Hot Spring County to Elizabeth Ford and Odis Ray Overton, a mine foreman at Magnet Cove (Hot Spring County). His mother, who taught several subjects in Hot Spring County’s public school system, was known for her skill with the English language; Overton joked that he got some learning in language by osmosis. Overton was an only child. His father died in 1957 when Overton was sixteen years old. In 1963, his mother …

Parker, Isaac Charles

Isaac Charles Parker served as federal judge for the Federal Court of the Western District of Arkansas in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). He tried 13,490 cases, with 9,454 of them resulting in guilty pleas or convictions. His court was unique in the fact that he had jurisdiction over all of Indian Territory, covering over 74,000 square miles. He sentenced 160 people to death, including four women. Of those sentenced to death under Parker, seventy-nine men were executed on the gallows. Born on October 15, 1838, in Barnesville, Ohio, Isaac Parker was the son of Joseph and Jane Parker. Joseph was a farmer, and Jane was known for her strong mental qualities and business habits. She was active in the Methodist …

Purtle, John Ingram

John Ingram Purtle was a populist lawyer and politician who spent eleven tempestuous years as a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court late in the twentieth century. Purtle—who was called “the Great Dissenter” in a law review article after his death—resigned from the court in 1989 because of enduring conflicts with his fellow justices, most of whom he said had judicial philosophies that were “not in harmony” with his own. Four years before his resignation, Purtle had been charged in an arson-for-profit scheme with his legal secretary and another person, but he was acquitted in a jury trial. John Purtle was born on September 7, 1923, the middle child of nine children of John Wesley Purtle and Edna Gertrude Ingram …

Rector, Henry Massie

Henry Massie Rector was the state’s sixth governor. He was part of Arkansas’s political dynasty during the antebellum period, but he was not always comfortable in that role and played a part in its downfall. Henry Rector was born on May 1, 1816, at Fontaine’s Ferry near Louisville, Kentucky, to Elias Rector and Fannie Bardell Thurston. He was the only one of their children to survive to maturity. Elias Rector, one of the numerous Rectors who worked as deputy surveyors under William Rector, the surveyor-general for Illinois and Missouri, served in the Missouri legislature in 1820 and as postmaster of St. Louis, Missouri. He also surveyed in Arkansas and acquired, among other speculations, a claim to the site of the …

Ringo, Daniel

Daniel Ringo was the first chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court and helped to develop the foundation for the state’s legal system. Daniel Ringo was born on October 27, 1803, in Cross Plains, Kentucky, but little else is known about his life prior to his arrival in Arkansas. Ringo came to Arkansas in 1820, settling first in Batesville (Independence County) and then moving on to Clark County, where he served as a deputy clerk of the district court. He was elected clerk in 1825 and served most of three terms. He studied the law throughout this time and was admitted to the bar in 1830, at which time he moved to Hempstead County, where he established a partnership with …

Roaf, Andree Yvonne Layton

Andree Yvonne Layton Roaf was an Arkansas attorney and jurist. A 1996 inductee to the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, Roaf distinguished herself in the fields of biology, law, and community service. Andree Layton was born on March 31, 1941, in Nashville, Tennessee. The daughter of William W. Layton, a government official, and Phoebe A. Layton, an educator, she grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and in White Hall and Muskegon Heights, Michigan. She had two sisters. She graduated from high school in Muskegon in 1958. Originally intending to pursue a career in the biological sciences, she attended Michigan State University and received a BS in zoology in 1962. While an undergraduate, she met, and subsequently married in July 1963, another …

Rogers, John Henry

John Henry Rogers was a Civil War Confederate hero, a lawyer in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), a four-term Congressman, and a United States District Court judge for the Western District of Arkansas. John Rogers was born on October 9, 1845, in Bertie County, North Carolina. His father, Absolom Rogers was a successful planter and slaveholder. In 1861, when Rogers was fifteen years old, he became the drillmaster for a company of home guards, and in March 1862, he was mustered into Company H, Ninth Regiment, Mississippi Volunteers, as a private soldier. Rogers served in the same regiment until it was surrendered at Greensboro, North Carolina, on May 1, 1865. He saw a considerable amount of action and was twice wounded, …

Rose, Uriah Milton

Uriah Milton Rose was a nationally prominent attorney who practiced in Little Rock (Pulaski County) for more than forty years at what is now known as the Rose Law Firm. He was a founder and president of both the Arkansas Bar Association and the American Bar Association, and he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as an ambassador for the United States to the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907. U. M. Rose was born on March 5, 1834, in Bradfordsville, Kentucky, to Nancy and Joseph Rose. His father was a physician. He was his parents’ third son and had two half-siblings from his father’s first marriage to a Miss Armstrong from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rose’s mother died in 1848, and …

Roy, Elsijane Trimble

Elsijane Trimble Roy was Arkansas’s first woman circuit judge, the first woman on the Arkansas Supreme Court, the first woman appointed to an Arkansas federal judgeship, the first woman federal judge in the Eighth Circuit, and the first Arkansas woman to follow her father as a federal judge. Born on April 2, 1916, in Lonoke (Lonoke County), Elsijane Trimble was one of five children of Judge Thomas Clark Trimble III and Elsie Walls. Her father and grandfather were both attorneys in a law practice with Senator Joseph T. Robinson, and her father later became a federal judge. Trimble grew up in Lonoke attending local schools and was a star basketball player her four years at Lonoke High School, graduating in …

Scott, Andrew Horatio

Andrew Horatio Scott was one of the first Superior Court judges of Arkansas Territory by virtue of appointment by President James Monroe. He was the first governmental official to report for duty at the village of Arkansas Post (Arkansas County) on July 4, 1819, and assisted in putting into operation the laws of the territory. He served as Circuit Court Judge for the first District and was the first County Judge of Pope County. The county of Scott, created in 1833, was named in his honor. Andrew Scott was born on August 6, 1789, to Andrew Scott, a Scottish emigrant weaver and Elizabeth Ferguson in Hanover, County, Virginia. In 1808, he arrived with his parents, two brothers, and three sisters …

Scott, Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus Scott was appointed to the Arkansas Supreme Court after the resignation of Williamson Simpson Oldham Sr. in 1848. He was elected to the position in 1850 and reelected in 1858. He served on the Arkansas Supreme Court until his death in 1859, the longest tenure of any justice in the antebellum period. Christopher C. Scott was born in Scottsburg, Virginia, on April 22, 1807. He was the son of General John Baytop Scott, who was a prominent lawyer and Revolutionary War soldier, and Martha “Patsy” Thompson, an accomplished daughter of a wealthy planter. John Baytop Scott was friends with many of the nation’s founding fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. He was a graduate of …

Sebastian, William King

William Sebastian represented Arkansas in the U.S. Senate from 1848 until 1861. Also a farmer, lawyer, and judge, Sebastian served his state until the Civil War ended his career. Sebastian County, formed on January 6, 1851, was named for him. William King Sebastian was born in Centerville, Tennessee, in 1812 to Samuel Sebastian and his wife. Records do not include the name of his mother or any siblings (he appears to be one of at least three children in the household in 1830.) or the exact date of his birth. Sebastian moved to Arkansas in 1835, living briefly in Monroe County before making his home in Helena (Phillips County). While in Tennessee, Sebastian attended Columbia College, graduating in 1834. He …

Selden, Joseph

Joseph Selden was one of the earliest judges of the Superior Court of the Arkansas Territory, the territory’s highest court. Selden was appointed by President James Monroe in 1820 to replace Robert Letcher, who left the territory abruptly after less than one year in office. Judge Selden served on the court until May 26, 1824, when he was killed in a duel with fellow jurist Judge Andrew H. Scott. Joseph Selden was born in Henrico County, Virginia, on May 7, 1787, to Colonel Miles Cary Selden and Elizabeth Armistead Selden. He was born on the family estate, Tree Hill, on the James River; he had eleven siblings. One of his younger brothers was William Selden, born in 1791, who became …

Sheffield, Ronald Lee

Ronald Lee Sheffield, a lawyer, was a state insurance regulator for many years and served for a year as a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. Sheffield overcame many misfortunes to become the sixth African American to serve on the state’s highest court. Ron Sheffield was born on June 30, 1946, in Coshocton, Ohio, to Mildred Hattie Sheffield. He never learned who his father was. His mother had been married and divorced; her son Billy Richards, who was reared by a grandparent, became a Muslim and changed his name to Hakim Bey. After Sheffield was born, his mother married Lee Evans Taylor Jr., a laborer at a General Electric (GE) plant. She worked as a maid and occasionally at the …

Smith, George Rose

George Rose Smith was a prominent twentieth-century lawyer and state Supreme Court justice. As of 2015, he remains the longest-serving Arkansas Supreme Court justice. George Rose Smith was born on July 26, 1911, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), one of five children of Hay Watson Smith, a minister who served as the pastor of Little Rock’s Second Presbyterian Church for almost forty years, and Jessie Rose Smith. He received his early education in the Little Rock schools before graduating first in his class from Little Rock High School in 1928. Following graduation, Smith went to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He soon returned home, however, to attend the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). He graduated …

Smith, Lavenski Roy

Lavenski Roy Smith, the son of a black county farm agent at Hope (Hempstead County), became a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court at age forty-one and became the second African American to serve on the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the second-highest level of courts in the country, as well as the first to serve as chief justice. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2003. Lavenski Smith was born on October 31, 1958, to Cayce B. Smith and Olee M. Smith at Hope. He began school in still racially segregated schools, but the city’s schools soon integrated under court orders. He graduated from Hope High School, the school from which future Arkansas governor …

Thornton, Raymond Hoyt (Ray), Jr.

Law professor Raymond (Ray) Hoyt Thornton Jr. was an Arkansas entrepreneur, lawyer, attorney general, U.S. representative, university president, and Arkansas Supreme Court justice. Thornton also played a key role in fashioning the articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon concerning the Watergate cover-up. Ray Thornton was born on July 16, 1928, in Conway (Faulkner County), one of two children of Raymond Thornton Sr. of Sheridan (Grant County) and Wilma Elizabeth Stephens of Prattsville (Grant County). His parents attended Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas) and eventually returned to Sheridan to live; Thornton’s father served as superintendent of schools for Grant County, and his mother taught at Sheridan. Thornton graduated from high school in 1945 at age …

Trieber, Jacob

Jacob Trieber of Helena (Phillips County) and Little Rock (Pulaski County) was the first Jew to serve as a federal judge in the United States. Serving from 1900 to 1927 as judge for the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas, he became known in judicial circles as a “genius as lawyer and jurist.” He presided over more than 1,000 cases annually, kept his docket current, and had time to serve many assignments outside his own district. He issued nationally important rulings on controversies that included antitrust cases, railroad litigation, prohibition cases, and mail fraud; some of his rulings, such as those regarding civil rights and wildlife conservation, have implications today. His broad interpretation of the constitutional guarantees of the …

Tuck, Annabelle Davis Clinton Imber

Annabelle Davis Clinton Imber Tuck was the first woman elected justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court and, as a trial judge, wrote the original order that reshaped the financing of public education in the state. While a chancery judge in Pulaski County in 1994, she issued an order declaring the state’s system of funding and operating its public schools unconstitutional and gave the Arkansas General Assembly two years to produce schools that guaranteed every child the same opportunity for a good education, as the state constitution required. Ten years later, the case, Lake View School District No. 25 v. Huckabee, resulted in sweeping reforms, including school consolidation and changes in tax structures, that the Supreme Court declared had finally complied with …

Waggoner, William Jayson (Bill)

William Jayson Waggoner, a lifelong resident of Lonoke County, served for forty-one years as circuit judge. Elected state representative in 1914, he served in that role until resigning to take a commission in the U.S. Army in 1917. Upon his return, he was elected prosecuting attorney and continued to serve in elected office for the rest of his life. Bill Waggoner was born near the community of Needmore (Lonoke County) on November 12, 1889, to Thomas J. Waggoner and Nancy Munsch Waggoner; he was one of ten children. After Waggoner’s father’s death in 1898, the family lived in Carlisle (Lonoke County) and Lonoke (Lonoke County). Waggoner’s mother remarried in 1911 to William Henry Stout. After graduating from the Law Department …

Warren, Joyce Elise Williams

Joyce Elise Williams Warren was the first black female judge in the Pulaski County system and the first in Arkansas. She has also authored A Booklet for Parents, Guardians, and Custodians in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases (2003), which has been translated into Spanish and has been widely distributed in Arkansas and other states. She has appeared in several training videos and other videos concerning juvenile and domestic relations law and related issues. Joyce Elise Williams was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on October 25, 1949, one of two children of Albert Lewis Williams Jr. and Marian Eloise Longley Williams, both teachers. She attended Gibbs Elementary School and was one of ten black students who integrated West Side Junior …

Watkins, George Claibourne

George Claibourne Watkins was a prominent attorney in nineteenth-century Arkansas. His partnership with Chester Ashley is one of the roots from which one of the state’s most respected firms, the Rose Law Firm, grew. In addition to his role in the development of the firm, Watkins also served briefly as chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. George C. Watkins was born on November 25, 1815, in Shelbyville, Kentucky, to Isaac Watkins and Marie Toncray Watkins. In late 1820, seeking new opportunities, the family set out for the newly opened territory of Arkansas. They arrived in March 1821, and, settling in what would become Little Rock (Pulaski County), the family quickly earned a place among the town’s most prominent early …

Wolfe, Paul

Paul Wolfe was a lawyer and World War II veteran who later became the circuit judge for the Twelfth Judicial District of Arkansas (Scott and Sebastian counties) and was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to organize and chair a committee to write what became the textbook for the new National Council of State Trial Judges under the administration of the American Bar Association. He also served as a member of the Arkansas Model Criminal Jury Instructions Committee. Paul Wolfe was born on January 5, 1908, in Weir, Kansas, to John Walter Wolfe and Myra Este Vasser Wolfe. His first name was Harry, but he preferred to use his middle name, Paul. The Wolfe family moved to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) …

Wood, Carroll D.

Carroll D. Wood was an important figure in Arkansas legal history. Although he served on the Arkansas Supreme Court for over thirty-five years, he is arguably best known for his unsuccessful candidacy for governor in 1904. Carroll D. Wood was born on July 8, 1858, in Ashley County; he was the son of Baptist minister John S. Wood and Martha Bussey Wood; Wood’s mother died when he was very young. The Reverend Wood remarried, and his second wife, Mary Kelsey Wood, provided the future jurist’s earliest education. Wood also attended local Hamburg (Ashley County) schools before pursuing a degree at what is now the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). Following graduation in 1879, he read law with …

Wright, Susan Webber

aka: Susan Webber Carter
As a U.S. district judge, Susan Webber Wright received international attention during the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones against U.S. president Bill Clinton. Wright later made global headlines in a landmark decision when she found Clinton, as president of the United States, to be in civil contempt of court. Susan Webber was born in Texarkana (Miller County) on September 6, 1948, to Betty Webber and attorney Thomas E. Webber III; she had one younger sister. When Webber was sixteen years old, her father died, and her mother went to work at a bank to provide for the family. Webber won a scholarship to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, from which she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in …