Abuse of power finds its way to the courts where a former-ARGOP-director-turned judge takes up the school board’s political torch

In an interview with independent journalists on popular.info, UCA student Alex Barnett shares his account of serving ten days in a Faulkner County jail for protesting a Conway School Board meeting.

Barnett and others were at a contentious November school board meeting where board members limited the public’s attendance. Barnett’s group was told to stand in the lobby, a request with which they complied, and used the lobby space to chant “Trans lives matter.” Police were called in to disband the protest, and most protesters left except for Barnett and two others. The remaining three students were arrested and charged with trespassing and failure to disperse.

Typically misdemeanor charges like these result in a fine. But Barnett received jail time despite having no prior violations, not even a traffic citation.

Here’s where the abuse of power ramps up: during his trial, District Judge Chris Carnahan seized the opportunity to make an example out of Barnett. Carnahan is a former director of the Arkansas Republican Party and ran an unsuccessful bid for supreme court justice on a blatantly partisan platform (judicial races are nonpartisan in Arkansas). An excerpt from the article:

“During his unsuccessful run for the Arkansas Supreme Court, [Carnahan] used the slogan: ‘Finally, a conservative judge!’ Carnahan collected tens of thousands of dollars from Republican Party committees, even though the races are non-partisan and such contributions violate the Arkansas Judicial Code of Conduct. Carnahan said he was ignoring the rule because he believed it was unconstitutional. 

Carnahan posted Let’s go Brandon!, code for a profane insult targeting President Joe Biden, and a tribute to Rush Limbaugh on his public Facebook page. On his campaign website, Carnahan touts that he is ‘a member of Gun Owners of America and the National Rifle Association’ and ‘follower of Christ.’ Among the groups Carnahan likes on Facebook is the Family Council Action Committee, the Arkansas affiliate of Focus on the Family, a notorious anti-LGBTQ advocacy organization.

During his campaign, Carnahan claimed to support ‘amnesty and community service instead of fines’ for non-violent offenses. But Carnahan apparently believes that Barnett’s non-violent protest supporting trans people deserved a much harsher penalty.”

Judge Carnahan’s decision to jail a student for peacefully protesting a school board meeting feels less like justice and more like political punishment. Usually our state’s court system provides the only check to rampant abuse of power by elected leaders. Unfortunately for Conway, this doesn’t seem to be the case.