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Ark. justice recused from gay marriage case accused of improper exchange

Ark. justice recused from gay marriage case accused of improper exchange

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas Supreme Court justice has been accused of having an inappropriate conversation with a state lawmaker about an issue set to go before the court.

Cliff Hoofman
Cliff Hoofman

The state’s judicial oversight committee said it’s investigating a complaint against Justice Cliff Hoofman, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission director David Sachar said the complaint was about an alleged conversation between Hoofman and Republican state Sen. Jason Rapert.

Sachar didn’t identify the topic of the conversation, but Rapert said he talked about same-sex marriage with Hoofman several months ago.

An after-hours call Wednesday to the state Supreme Court in an effort to reach Hoofman was not answered.

In May, Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down Arkansas’ ban on same-sex marriage, saying that it was unconstitutional.

On Sept. 10, Hoofman recused himself from the state’s efforts to reverse the ruling. Five days later, he said in an email: “Judges recuse when there exists a conflict, whether real or perceived. In most cases it is based on personalities, the parties, or the lawyers.”

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According to Rapert, he and Hoofman spoke on the phone around the time the gay-marriage ban was struck down.

“(Hoofman) had called me on an unrelated matter at the same time as the news was breaking with Judge Piazza, in passing we discussed of course that this was happening,” Rapert said. “(We) both know we can’t discuss his feelings if it’s coming to state court.”

Rapert said he didn’t recall talking about gay marriage to any other court members, excluding a couple of comments made with an Arkansas Supreme Court justice over the past few years.

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