Circuit judge’s attorney sends “cease and desist” letter to prosecutor candidate Phillips over campaign ad

Circuit Judge Robin Green's private attorney sent a cease and desist letter to candidate Sarah Phillips in the Benton County prosecuting attorney's race for using the judge's name in campaign advertising, the judge confirmed Monday.

Phillips' campaign confirmed delivery of the letter and defended the campaign's use of Green's name, but said it would modify the campaign message.

The advertisement prompting the letter says, with quote marks in the original: "Judge Robin Green once served our community as prosecuting attorney. She was impeccable. Her professionalism, hard work and commitment to our justice system set the standard for this office."

The advertisement does not say Green gave Phillips her endorsement, but that is how it was perceived, Green said Monday in a phone interview.

"I have had people calling me asking if I'd made an endorsement for prosecuting attorney after they saw these ads and campaign flyers," Green said. "Clearly, those people believed it was an endorsement.

"Even if I wanted to make an endorsement, judicial ethics prohibits me from doing so," Green said.

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette contacted Phillips and Green after receiving a copy of the "cease and desist" letter from a source after an advertisement using the quote appeared in Sunday's edition of the newspaper. Phillips is running against Bryan Sexton, chief deputy prosecuting attorney, in the March 5 nonpartisan judicial election.

"I look forward to continuing to meet the voters of Benton County in my campaign as the experienced candidate for prosecuting attorney," Sexton said when informed of Green's letter and Phillips' response.

The letter on Green's behalf from attorney Marshall Ney of Rogers is dated Sunday. The letter states in part: "I demand that you and all acting in concert with you immediately cease and desist from using Judge Green's name in your campaign efforts and materials. The manner in which you are using her name suggests that she has endorsed your candidacy. As you know, she has not done so, and in fact, Judge Green is ethically prohibited from endorsing a candidate for prosecutor in the Benton County election."

Phillips' campaign said in a statement: "Relative to the facts, we responded to Judge Green's attorney stating that we would be happy to clarify any of her concerns. I have updated an advertisement indicating that Judge Green has not endorsed any candidate. That said, we did not suggest any endorsement by Judge Green. I merely extended my admiration to her excellent example and promised to bring high ethics and hard work to this office."

Phillips' statement went on to say she met with Green on Nov. 20, expressed the same sort of views and the judge had no concerns then.

"I only met this person one time," Green said in her interview. "It was in November, and at no time did I ever tell her she could use my name in an advertisement."

Phillips is a former Benton County deputy prosecutor who now works as senior manager of the global threat management team for Walmart Stores Inc.

There is no incumbent in the race. Nathan Smith resigned from the prosecuting attorney's position in October to take a position at Walmart headquarters. Gov. Sarah Sanders appointed Joshua Robinson as interim prosecuting attorney.

Robinson will serve in the position through the end of this year. He is ineligible to run for the office because of his appointment as interim. The winner of the March 5 election will take over Jan. 1 and serve two years -- the remainder of the four-year term that was originally Smith's.

The Benton County prosecuting attorney position is full time. Full-time prosecuting attorneys in Arkansas draw salaries of $183,272 a year.

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