LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas Supreme Court justice said Thursday she will not recuse from hearing an appeal in a wrongful-death lawsuit against a Fort Smith businessman who contributed thousands to her election campaign two years ago.
Justice Rhonda Wood denied a motion by Andrew Phillips asking her to recuse from Michael Morton’s appeal of a judge’s order that granted class-action status to Phillips’ suit against Morton and Robinson Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in North Little Rock, which Morton owns. Phillips’ mother, Dorothy Phillips, died in 2014 and was a resident of the nursing home.
Phillips argued that because Morton and his nursing homes contributed $40,000 to Wood’s 2013 campaign for the Supreme Court, she should not be involved in hearing Morton’s appeal.
Wood disagreed, writing in her order Thursday denying the motion that the size of the contributions she received was not large enough to warrant recusal; that Morton did not host any fundraisers or coordinate with her campaign; and that Morton and his nursing homes made the contributions two years ago and the appeal is not likely to be before the court until the spring of 2017.
“The timing between the campaign and the current proceeding is a sufficient cooling-off period,” Wood wrote.
Wood also wrote that she has no business or social relationship with Morton or any of his businesses.