Monday, April 27, 2009

Proctor employees take stand UPDATE

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 3:21 PM

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The judicial discipline hearing for Circuit Judge Willard Proctor of Little Rock (center) began this morning. Mara Leveritt is covering for us and will be providing updates. At right in the photo is his lead attorney, Austin Porter. Proctor is accused of violating judicial ethics rules in operation of Cycle Breakers, a probation program he started and which is sustained by revenue produced by fees he assesses in his court. He's accused of sending probationers to jail for failure to pay fees to the organization.

UPDATE: After the three-member panel heard, and denied, the expected motion to dismiss the case, testimony began. Former staff members talked of Proctor's handling of Cycle Breakers money, of uncomfortably close relationships with probationers and unstable behavior.

By Mara Leveritt\

A bailiff in Circuit Judge Willard Proctor’s court testified in a
hearing today that he saw the judge collect money for Cycle Breakers,
a nonprofit corporation. Richard Day spoke before a panel of the
Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission that is
reviewing charges that Proctor has violated rules of official conduct
for judges.

Day said Proctor “collected the money and he collected the fees” for
Cycle Breakers, both in his courtroom and in the hallway outside his
courtroom. Day said that on many occasions, “I saw him at a table full
of cash and I saw him counting the money.”

When asked if he ever saw Judge Proctor deposit money, Day said he had
not, but he added, “I saw him put the money in the bag and I saw him
walk out of the courthouse down the alley toward the bank.” Day said
that at a recent staff retreat Proctor said his No. 1 goal was for
Cycle Breakers to collect $250,000 in fees.

The panel hearing the charges against Proctor consists of Chuck
Dearman, a businessman from Monticello; Judge Leon Jamison, a circuit
judge from Pine Bluff, and Jerry Larkowski, a Little Rock attorney.
Austin Porter Jr. is representing Proctor with assistance from Rosalyn
Watts. Blake Hendrix, who had been representing Proctor, recently
filed a motion to withdraw from the judge’s defense due to a conflict
with a witness.

Staff of the JDDC presenting the findings against Proctor are David L.
Sachar, deputy executive director; and David A. Stewart, executive

The commission’s panel denied several motions presented by Proctor’s
defense before witnesses were called. One of those motions had asked
the panel not to allow “conclusory statements” to questions such as
“Who runs Cycle Breakers?” and “Did Judge Proctor control the
checkbook?” That request was also denied.

The panel was shown a 37-minute DVD, a video taken at a Cycle
Breakers’ meeting led by Proctor. It sounded in part like a religious
revival. Near the end, Proctor was heard crying and saying that his
judgeship was under attack. He told probationers, “I will help you
even if I lose my judgeship.”

At another point, the subject of a building to be bought for Cycle
Breakers was raised. Day said that Proctor showed his staff through
the building and told them where various offices would be. Day said he
was disturbed to hear Proctor tell the City Board that his court staff
would be responsible for security at the building, while at another
time he heard Proctor tell the Quorum Court that no county personnel
would be involved.

Witnesses expected to be called this afternoon are Sally Porter, Treva
Cooper and Zane Chrisman.

Sally Porter, Proctor’s case coordinator and staff member from 2000 to 2004, said she was told when she was hired that she was to be a “firewall” between him and probationers. He acknowledged that close contact could cause problems.
But the judge did get close to probationers. She said she warned him about it, which angered him. She left over the issue. By then, “Judge Proctor hated me,” she said.
She testified that the judge’s office was the office for Cycle Breakers. She confirmed that Bible studies were led by Judge Proctor in the judge’s offices – Scripture lessons similar to Sunday school. She talked also about Proctor’s “intensive probationers.” These were in Proctor’s court regularly and had free use of desks and computers. She objected, but he said it was OK. She described a particularly close relationship with one probationer who arrived in a car with the judge in the morning and often at lunch at him. Earlier allegations included that he also spent nights at Proctor’s home.
She said she and another staff member were authorized to sign Cycle Breakers checks, but Judge Proctor would ask her to sign blank checks for his use and always had some at his disposal. She eventually refused to sign more blank checks. She said she saw money collected from probationers that  Proctor took into his chambers. She testified about the use of the money for a variety of courtroom purposes and also to reimburse Proctor’s Abundant Grace church for various expenses.
Porter described, too, an “adjudicated monitoring” fee. When the jail was full, Proctor charged probationers a fee until jail space became available.
Proctor’s relationship with the staff was difficult, Porter said. She described episodes of ranting and raving in which he called her a devil. “I observed him yelling, screaming, telling us not to think, that he would think for us.”
She said, after making a sign of the cross with her index fingers, that he’d make a similar sign when telling her what to do and then say, “I bind you in the name of the Lord.”
Proctor vigorously shook his head indicating no to that testimony.
She said Proctor had asked her and a man to go into business with him on a catfish restaurant. She said a restaurant worker would call daily and she’d relay questions to the judge, while he was on the bench, and he’d answer. She’d then relay it to the restaurant operator.
Porter, a former telephone company employee, said she helped install a listening device and recorder on the judge’s home phone so he could listen to conversations of people staying in his home, including those of a young man talking to a girlfriend.
Porter said Proctor told her his civil probation program “was a way we can get more money in Cycle Breakers.” The program has been described as unprecedented and unauthorized by a number of legal authorities.
Proctor reportedly told Porter, after complaints had started emerging about his court, that he had plans for a Washington job in the Justice Department and that he’d take staff along with him, but that wouldn’t happen if he lost his judgeship.
Much of the afternoon was devoted to Proctor's attorney cross-examination of Porter. He challenged her credibility, drawing testimony that she had received money from Cycle Breakers (for work she performed, she said.).

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