Arkansas U.S. Attorney Candidate Withdraws
By Andrew Ramonas | March 8, 2022 8:01 am

A black state prosecutor has taken himself out of the running for an Arkansas U.S. Attorney post amid confusion about the nominating process and rising tensions between African-American leaders and state Democrats over a lack of black judicial appointees.

Carlton Jones, chief deputy prosecutor in Arkansas’s Miller and Lafayette counties, removed himself from consideration for Western District of Arkansas U.S. Attorney late last month after meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about the job in Washington on Feb. 18.

Carlton Jones (University of Arkansas School of Law)

In an interview with Main Justice, Jones, 48, said he ultimately decided to withdraw for family reasons.

“Really and truly, I was intrigued by the possibility of being U.S. Attorney,” said Jones, who has served as a state prosecutor for more than 20 years. But he said it was “in the best interest for me and my family” not to uproot them from their home in Texarkana to Fort Smith, where the Western District office is based.

Along the way to this decision, Jones’ path took several odd turns.

He said he applied for the U.S. Attorney job last year. But Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor instead recommended him to be a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas last May after another candidate for the seat, state circuit court Judge James S. Hudson Jr., died.

At the same time, the senators announced another slate of candidates for the U.S. Attorney post:  William Conner Eldridge Jr., a 31-year-old chief executive officer of Summit Bank; Arkansas Assistant Attorney General Shawn J. Johnson; and Western District Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher D. Plumlee. Read the senators’ joint statement on their recommendations here.

Lincoln and Pryor have been under increasing pressure from African American leaders in Arkansas to recommend black judicial candidates, which may explain why Jones’s name turned up on their list for a federal judgeship. Congressional Quarterly reported that members of the state’s black legal association met with the senators last month to express their disappointment with the lack of black candidates for federal judicial posts in the state.

Jones said he did not know how he ultimately ended up back in the pool of candidates for the U.S. Attorney nomination. The White House has worked hard to recruit black U.S. Attorney candidates, especially in the South, and may have played a role in putting Jones back in play for the prosecuting position. A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, did not respond to requests for comment.

But Jones is not waiting around to find out. On Friday, he filed to run for prosecuting attorney in Miller and Lafayette counties.

Representatives for Lincoln and Pryor did not respond to requests for comment. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the department does not comment on U.S. Attorney candidates until a presidential nomination is made. “The White House has not nominated anyone for the Western District of Arkansas,” Melissa Schwartz said. “We do not comment [on] rumored potential candidates.”

Arkansas Circuit Court Judge Marion Humphrey, who leads the W. Harold Flowers Law Society, previously known as the Arkansas Black Lawyers Association, said black leaders in the state are puzzled about the decision to make Jones a candidate for U.S. Attorney instead of a finalist for a federal judgeship.

“I expected more out of the Obama administration than that,” Humphrey told Main Justice. “It seems rather strange that this White House would do that.”

The senators have not announced any other black candidates for federal judgeships in the state.

Pryor is not up for re-election until 2014, but Lincoln is running for a third term this year and she is viewed as one of the most vulnerable of Senate Democrats. She recently drew a Democratic primary challenge from Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Black voters are an important constituency for Democrats in Arkansas, where African-Americans make up 16 percent of the state’s population.

But some black leaders say they aren’t happy.

“We are now in an election season and we can’t say we got anything productive out of the Democratic Party,” Arkansas NAACP president Dale Charles said in an interview with Main Justice. “We’re not satisfied with being left out of the process.”

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