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Office of Attorney General

The attorney general, one of the state’s seven constitutional offices, is the state’s top law enforcement officer and consumer advocate.

The office of attorney general was not originally a constitutional office but rather was created by Act 1 of 1843, which designated the state’s attorney for its Fifth Judicial District as the attorney general. The first attorney general was Robert W. Johnson. The constitution of 1868 made the post elective, though it required only that the attorney general “perform such duties as are now, or may hereafter, be prescribed by law.” This was reaffirmed in the constitution of 1874. Act 131 of 1911 laid out four general responsibilities of the attorney general’s office: 1) to give opinions to state officers and agencies “upon any constitutional or other legal question that may concern the official action of said officers”; 2) to defend the interest of the state in federal court and representing all state officers, boards, and commissions in litigation involving the interests of the state; 3) to furnish any board or commission an opinion as to the validity of the title on any land they seek to purchase; and 4) to make a biennial report to the governor and the Arkansas General Assembly on all transactions of the attorney general’s office.

Among the divisions in the attorney general’s office are the Civil Department, which represents state agencies and officials named as defendants in lawsuits and serves as in-house counsel for such; Community Relations, which aids victims and offers education about issues of law and safety; the Criminal Department, which aims to uphold valid convictions and shape criminal legislation; the Medicaid Department, responsible for prosecuting Medicaid fraud; the Opinions Department, responsible for providing written legal opinions to state agencies; and the Public Protection Department, the consumer advocacy arm of the office.

Several attorneys general have been part of larger political machines. William Fosgate Kirby, for example, was handpicked by Governor Jeff Davis for the job and, while in office, worked fiercely to advance the governor’s antitrust policies. Bruce Bennett likewise embraced the segregationist policies of Governor Orval Faubus and authored a great deal of legislation designed specifically to harass civil rights groups; he later was implicated in several instances of fraud, having used his legal powers to help a company he had helped found dodge regulation.

The post of attorney general has frequently been a stepping stone for higher office in Arkansas politics, especially in the late 1960s and 1970s, when the office was publicly involved in consumer affairs, especially utility rate increases. (Governor Dale Bumpers sponsored the creation of a consumer protection division within the office of the attorney general.) James P. Clarke, Jeff Davis, Carl E. Bailey, Bill Clinton, and Mike Beebe all went directly from attorney general to be elected as governor, while others, such as Simon P. Hughes and Jim Guy Tucker, had a background of service as attorney general before running for governor. Ray Thornton and Tucker served as attorneys general before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Mark Pryor was elected to the U.S. Senate after one term as attorney general, and Kirby followed up his service with election to the Arkansas Supreme Court and, later, the U.S. Senate.

NAME

PARTY

BEGAN

ENDED

Robert W. Johnson

-

1843

1848

George C. Watkins

-

1848

1851

J. J. Clendenin

-

1851

1856

Thomas Johnson

-

1856

1858

J. L. Hollowell

-

1858

1861

P. Jordan

-

1861

1862

Sam W. Williams

-

1862

1864

Charles T. Jordan

Rep

1864

1865

R. S. Gantt

-

1865

1866

R. H. Deadman

-

1866

1868

J. R. Montgomery

Rep

1868

1873

T. D. W. Yonley

Rep (Min)

1873

1874

James L. Witherspoon

Dem

May 1874

Nov 1874

Simon P. Hughes

Dem

1874

1876

William F. Henderson

Dem

1877

1881

Charles B. Moore

Dem

1881

1885

Daniel W. Jones

Dem

1885

1889

William E. Atkinson

Dem

1889

1893

James P. Clarke

Dem

1893

1895

E. B. Kinsworthy

Dem

1895

1899

Jeff Davis

Dem

1899

1901

George W. Murphy

Dem

1901

1905

Robert L. Rogers

Dem

1905

1907

William F. Kirby

Dem

1907

1909

Hal L. Norwood

Dem

1909

1913

William L. Moose

Dem

1913

1915

Wallace Davis

-

1915

1917

John D. Arbuckle

Dem

1917

1921

J. S. Utley

Dem

1921

1925

W. H. Applegate

Dem

1925

1929

Hal L. Norwood

Dem

1929

1934

Walter L. Pope

-

1934

1935

Carl E. Bailey

Dem

1935

1937

Jack Holt

Dem

1937

1943

Guy E. Williams

Dem

1943

1949

Ike Murry

Dem

1949

1953

Tom Gentry

Dem

1953

1957

Bruce Bennett

Dem

1957

1961

J. Frank Holt

Dem

1961

1961

Jack Holt Jr.

-

1962

1963

Bruce Bennett

Dem

1963

1967

Joe Purcell

Dem

1967

1971

Ray Thornton

Dem

1971

1973

Rodney Parham

-

1973

1973

Jim Guy Tucker

Dem

1973

1977

Bill Wilson

-

1977

1977

Bill Clinton

Dem

1977

1979

Steve Clark

Dem

1979

1990

Ron Fields

-

1990

1990

Mary Stallcup

-

1991

1991

Winston Bryant

Dem

1991

1999

Mark Pryor

Dem

1999

2003

Leon Johnson

-

2003

2003

Mike Beebe

Dem

2003

2006

Dustin McDaniel

Dem

2007

 

Note: Attorneys general were appointed from 1843 to 1864. No party is listed for them in those years, or for others who were appointed to finish terms in 1865, 1866, 1915, 1934, 1962, 1973, 1977, 1990, 1991, and 2003.

For additional information:
Arkansas Attorney General. http://www.ag.state.ar.us/ (accessed August 5, 2009).

Blair, Diane, and Jay Barth. Arkansas Politics and Government. 2nd ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 4/29/2014

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