Pulaski County Circuit Judge Morgan “Chip” Welch has announced his intention to seek Position 4 on the Arkansas Supreme Court, the seat currently held by Justice Jo Hart. The nonpartisan judicial election will be held during the March 3 primary election with a possible runoff in November if necessary.
“Six weeks ago, I set up an exploratory committee to see what folks might think about me running for the Arkansas Supreme Court,” Welch said. “The response around the state has been gratifying and humbling. The Arkansans I’ve talked to want to keep the Supreme Court independent, nonpartisan and fair to everyone just like our state constitution provides.
Welch is the 16th Division Circuit Judge for the 6th Judicial Circuit which consists of Pulaski and Perry counties. While in private practice, prior to taking the bench, he participated in over 125 jury trials. He has appeared before the Arkansas Court of Appeals, the Arkansas Supreme Court, the United States Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. He is also licensed in the US Supreme Court, a press release said.
Welch has been recognized by his peers on many different occasions. In addition to being named one of the state’s Best Lawyers by the Arkansas Times, Mid-South Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America, he has received the Outstanding Trial Lawyer Award, the Roxanne Wilson Trial Advocacy Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Trial Lawyers’ Association, the release said.
Welch was president of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers' Association in 1990-91 and was a member of the Board of Governors of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) for 16 years. In addition, he was also President of the William Overton Inn of Court and served for six years on the Supreme Court Committee on Model Jury Instructions (Civil). He served 3 years as a member of the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association.
Welch was appointed by Chief Justice Kemp to chair the Supreme Court Sub-Committee on Complex Litigation in 2017, a position he continues to hold. In 2015, Judge Welch received the “Trial Judge of the Year” award from the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, the release said.
He is a member of the State Judicial Council where he served three years as parliamentarian. He is active in the Bowen Law School’s Law Student Mentoring program. In 2017 Welch was named the Bowen “Professional Mentor of the Year.”
The Associated Press reported that Welch previously said his decision would largely depend on whether Hart ran for re-election. Welch told The Associated Press that he told Hart last week he was going to run for the seat. Hart did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday.
Arkansas' nonpartisan Supreme Court races in recent years have drawn the focus of outside conservative groups that have spent millions on TV ads and attack mailers. Justice Courtney Rae Hudson won re-election last year after two conservative groups spent nearly $2.5 million trying to unseat her. Hudson went by Courtney Goodson before her divorce this year. The groups, the Judicial Crisis Network and the Republican State Leadership Committee, have not said whether they'll get involved in Arkansas' race.
Welch said he'll be prepared if any groups target him with false attacks on his record.
"If it happens and somebody comes in from out of state and spends a million dollars trying to distort who I am, I'm going to meet distortions with facts," Welch said.
A 1968 Hall High graduate, Welch received his bachelor’s degree from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri in 1972, and his juris doctorate from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1975. Welch attended both the Fayetteville and Little Rock law campuses, graduating at Little Rock.
Welch and his wife, Cheryl, have been married 37 years. They have two children and four grandchildren. They are members of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock. He a former active member of Rotary 99 and has served on the Presbyterian Village Foundation Board. He has volunteered time to the North Little Rock Teen Court and was a sponsor of the North Little Rock Police Athletic League. He is past president of the North Little Rock Jaycees.