Conway’s Wood Excited to Bring Arguments to CHS

Wood Speaks About Educational, Professional Experiences


Connor Kendrick

Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood speaks to a small group of CHS students as part of the Appeals on Wheels event April 6.

Kendall Watson and Ellie Matthews

Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, resident of the city of Conway, was interviewed prior to the Appeals on Wheels program appearing on the stage in the James H. Clark Auditorium on the Conway High School campus. We sat down with Wood  to discuss not just the Appeals on Wheels program, but her educational and professional history also. 

Justice Wood, originally from the State of Wisconsin, Wood attended classes at five other campuses across the nation. Wood’s husband, Dr. Michael Wood, was active in the military. Wood would later transfer into Hendrix for her junior year of college, something that she noted many people don’t usually do. “Nobody really transferred into Hendrix… people usually transfer out. I was married with 4 kids while everyone else was very traditional.” Wood mentioned highlights of her college experience, aside from being married with 4 kids, how she graduated from the college in one year. “I petitioned there to take 4 classes each trimester, and on top of that, I had to go back and write my Junior thesis over spring break while doing 18 credit hours.” Wood notes how even though her student experience was “odd,” administration was very accommodating and very welcoming, which really helped her when she later became an Assistant Dean at UALR Bowen School of Law.

In 2006, Governor Mike Huckabee had appointed Wood for the Trial Courts, serving on the Arkansas 20th Judicial Circuit Court, covering Faulkner, Van Buren, and Searcy counties, respectively. “Thinking about it, being a school administrator was completely different when property disputes landed in front of me. There were so many areas I was unfamiliar with, and then I had all the juvenile cases assigned to me. I also had a small percentage of adult criminal cases.” Comparing the different aspects of being in Education and being in Law, Wood notes that “suddenly, I had all of these areas of law. In trial court, you’re making snap decisions. I was used to the academic side where you get to think, study, and write. It was a very difficult transition to make.”

In 2014, Wood ran for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court and was elected for an 8-year term. “The Appellate process in Arkansas occurs when someone is unsatisfied with their decision out of the trial court, they have an opportunity to have one of the appellate courts preview it. In a criminal case, you have an automatic right to an appeal. If you are imprisoned, the state funds that right to an appeal.” Wood made it very clear that an appeal to a case is not a retrial; however, it’s the reevaluation of what happened at the trial court level and was there an error – an error process, error of law, etc. – and rarely are the facts reweighed. “We do not have witnesses. It’s the attorney’s arguing the law and what happened.” Similarly, people can challenge the constitutionality of something that is happening at the Legislature. “There will be challenges to that, and that will come directly to our Supreme Court. When there are ballot initiatives, for instance, such as trying to get recreational or medical marijuana on the ballot for the people to vote is when that ends up challenged and in front of us.”

Outside of the legal aspect of Woods’ life, she is an active supporter of the University of Central Arkansas and active member in her church. She was also on the founding board for the Interfaith free medical clinic (now a part of Conway Regional), and the children’s advocacy group CASA. Wood also helped to found the Faulkner County Teen Court, but is not really active as of currently. “Now that I am active on the Supreme Court, I have to be sort of careful with what I do. Most of my activities are involved with the commissions through the court. I think we have had over 30 members throughout the years that have become lawyers that started out as seniors at Conway High School.” 

Wood, however, isn’t completely consumed with the law.  She is also a Master Gardener through the University of Arkansas’ Agriculture program and the Faulkner County extension office. “We volunteer 20 hours a year to be considered a ‘Master Gardener,’ but I haven’t always had the free time. I edit their monthly newsletter, so that’s my monthly volunteer work.” For others interested in nature and plants, she highly suggests the Legacy Garden, located next to Antioch Baptist Church off of Amity Road in East Conway. “There’s a massive garden over there and you can walk through it, too. There are benches and they have a butterfly garden. If you like photography, it’s a great place to take photos. It’s extremely beautiful – no one even knows that it’s there.” 

Justice Woods was extremely excited for the opportunity to bring her current work to the city where she resides, and even to work on the campus from which her own children graduated. “I know that each and every student in the audience is in good hands. I have great faith in the education that is taught here at Conway High School.” Wood offered the following advice and encouragement to students:  “Whatever you do in life, when you get this sort of crucial piece of advice, don’t forget it and carry it over and use it when the opportunity arises. Do not feel that there is a typical major or path you have to study. Study whatever will make you happy and what would be a great career if you end up not going to law school. If you study something that is fulfilling, you will do extremely well at it and flourish in your element.”