By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
William H. “Dub” Arnold, an Arkansan who formerly served as chief justice of the state Supreme Court, got his start in practicing law in Arkadelphia, where he made a lasting impression on the community and those who knew him.
Arnold died Wednesday, Feb. 1, in Hot Springs. He was 86.
His tenure as a Clark County prosecutor and judge leaves a legacy too vast to pen in a single news article. A collection of papers, news clippings, books and other items related to Arnold’s lengthy career is housed at the Huie Library at Henderson State University, where he was a 1957 graduate of the Teachers College.
Working in law ran strong in Arnold’s blood, as he was the son of Howard Arnold, who served as sheriff in the early 1950s. The family lived in an apartment under the two-story county jail during that time.
Arkadelphia native Blake Batson is on track to follow in his late cousin’s footsteps. Now serving as circuit judge over the 9th East Circuit in the court complex that bears Arnold’s name, Batson also served in various roles, including prosecuting attorney.
One of the stories Arnold often told was of his time as a rodeo clown in high school, Batson recalled. “I believe that job was the epitome of his character: he was fearless and not afraid of a fight, no matter the size of the adversary,” said Batson. “But he was truly there to help; he intervened when necessary to protect. And he did everything with a joyful and glad-hearted attitude which attracted everyone to him.”
Of all the titles Arnold held over his career, prosecutor was his favorite. Once he retired as Chief Justice he asked Batson — who was prosecutor at the time — to swear him in as a deputy prosecutor “so he could say he started as a prosecutor and finished as a prosecutor.” Arnold would go on to return the favor, swearing Batson in as circuit judge under authorization from the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Rex Nelson of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was editor of the Daily Siftings Herald during Arnold’s years as prosecutor 40 years ago. “A lot of big stories came out of the prosecutor’s office in those days,” Nelson said on social media. He added that Arnold, a lifelong family friend, would be missed.
Among those stories is one that was rarely told. As prosecutor in municipal court, Arnold apparently pushed then-Judge Bob Sanders’ buttons enough that he was hauled off to jail at Sanders’ behest. Arnold and Sanders “got a little crossways,” recounted Johnny Gould, a retired deputy and former sheriff of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Gould was the officer instructed to make the arrest. “It was something about kangaroo court, and I had to arrest him under the judge’s order,” he said, laughing. “After that [Arnold] ran for Bobby’s job [as judge] and got it. We still laugh about that.”
Gould, who worked in local law enforcement from the late ‘70s until his retirement in 1985, said Arnold was the type of prosecutor whose specialty was working off the cuff in difficult situations. “Dub would shoot from the hip, and it would automatically work on a case,” Gould said. “It was just easy for him; he was just a natural prosecutor.”
Retired 9th West Circuit Judge Charles Yeargan served under Arnold as a deputy prosecutor. Yeargan said Arnold was the type of prosecutor that could end a mediocre trial with a strong closing argument, ultimately nailing the defendant for a guilty verdict. “He was a tremendous trial attorney,” Yeargan said. “He was right up there with the best.” Yeargan described Arnold as his mentor who had a “wonderful personality” and was “extremely talented. He had a tremendous amount of influence on me.” Many others agree Arnold’s impact on others through his influential life and career will be his legacy.