Deputy Prosecutor Martin E. Lilly will face off against attorney Sonia Fonticiella in the 2nd Judicial District prosecuting attorney’s race on Nov. 8.
The 2nd Judicial District includes Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Greene, Mississippi and Poinsett counties.
The winner will succeed Keith Chrestman, who was appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to complete the unexpired term of Scott Ellington. Ellington is now a circuit judge. State law prevented Chrestman from running for the position.
On Friday, Fonticiella said she would push to prosecute more sexual crimes against children and other sexual assault case. She said she would push to alleviate the backlog of criminal cases in the 2nd District.
“It doesn’t make sense the child sex-abuse cases aren’t going forward,” Fonticiella said.
Before returning to her private legal practice earlier this year, Fonticiella served as a deputy public defender for the area. She previously worked for the federal Public Defender’s Office in Little Rock.
Lilly said his experience as a deputy prosecutor for five to six years, trying six or seven murder cases in the past two years makes him qualified for the job.
“If you’ve never done it, you don’t know how to do it,” he said.
He said Fonticiella’s lack of experience makes him the person for the job.
She disagrees, calling it “an unfair criticism.”
“I know how to work a criminal case up,” Fonticiella said. “We all play by the same rules. Some of the best prosecuting attorneys were public defenders.”
Fonticiella said her 14 years as an attorney have all been involved in criminal law.
Lilly said he has a three-point plan to implement if elected.
First is to direct his deputies to convict violent criminals. He said the prosecutor’s office has the highest clearance rate in the state for cases.
Second, he wants to aggressively pursue drug traffickers. He cited the surge in fentanyl in Northeast Arkansas.
Third, he wants to increase the use of specialty courts, such as drug, mental health and veterans courts.
Fonticiella said she would work closely with law enforcement to see what’s missing and what police need.
She said she has endorsements from retired Judge and former 2nd District Prosecuting Attorney Brent Davis, the sheriffs of Clay and Crittenden counties, retired Judge David Goodson and Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless.
Lilly said his endorsements include former Poinsett County Sheriff Larry Mills, the Greene County Republican Party and numerous family members of victims in homicide cases that he’s prosecuted.
One problem that has dogged Lilly is the $80,000 in tax liens that he owes the state. He said on Friday that a settlement has been reached and the matter should be resolved in a matter of days.
According to Lilly’s website, he is a lifelong Northeast Arkansas resident. He graduated from Arkansas State University and earned his law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He has been a member of the Arkansas Bar for more than 30 years.
Lilly currently serves as deputy prosecuting attorney for the 2nd Judicial District where he has successfully prosecuted violent crime cases, including obtaining convictions in several high-profile murder cases. Lilly also has years of experience serving as a plaintiff’s and defense attorney. Lilly is married to Sandy Prince Lilly, and they have two grown daughters, Lauren Lilly, a Navy officer and dentist, and Kristen Lilly McElrath, an attorney. Lilly and his wife live in Jonesboro.
Currently, Fonticiella, has a private law practice in Paragould. She previously served as a deputy public defender in Craighead County. She is an active member of the Criminal Justice Act Panel for the Eastern District of Arkansas and is an appointed member of the Federal Practice Committee. Previously, she worked with the Federal Defender’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock and is an alumnus of the Arkansas Federal Defender’s office CJA Mentor Program. She has also had bi-lingual law practices in El Dorado and Arizona.
She is a graduate of the Robert A. Leflar College of Law, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and was a Juris Doctorate Visiting Student at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Tempe, Ariz. Fonticiella has a BA degree from Florida State University. She is a member of the Arkansas Association of Criminal Defense lawyers, Greene County Bar Association, Arkansas Bar Association and Arkansas Association of Women Lawyers where she served as meeting chair. She is also a member of the Paragould Chamber of Commerce.
Fonticiella and her husband, Justin Hagood, are the parents of six children. She and her husband are involved with a variety of youth sports and parent teacher organizations.
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