Friday, May 13, 2011

The stench from Northwest Arkansas drug court UPDATE

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2011 at 1:51 PM

Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn has not returned my call.

But questions only grow about where she'll get the "cast" for her reality TV show when she leaves the bench June 11 to begin producing a drug court show.

Does she have a deal with the local prosecutor or other law agencies to handle drug defendants? Not that I can determine. Does the law allow her to do it? Good question. I'd note that Sen. Bill Pritchard has been a protector of Gunn, who has detractors in the Fayetteville legal community for allegedly spending more time burnishing her reputation as a TV judge than in handling other aspects of her docket. Pritchard could exert some pressure on state agencies.

A hot rumor is racing around about a deal under which Gunn's successor, who'd be named by Gov. Mike Beebe, would refer drug defendants to the Department of Community Corrections, which in turn would send cast members to Gunn's for-profit TV enterprise. So far, none of the relevant parties have returned calls about this. But if this is Beebe's idea of prison reform, it certainly wasn't what I had in mind — outsourcing cons to a TV judge cashing in on her public service.

UPDATE: A spokesman for Beebe says it will be some time before a successor is chosen and that there's high interest on the part of many lawyers in getting the job. He's checking (and I have a call in, too) DCC about any discussions it may have had about providing cast members for Gunn's TV show. But he said he's heard of no such arrangement. A spokesman for DCC disavows any discussions about the show by agency leaders with Pritchard.

BUT .... When I asked for a more categorical denial of contact with Judge Gunn, DCC spokeswoman Rhonda Sharp said, "Judge Gunn called a few days ago and described her program to the Director and the Deputy Director. They haven't spoken with anyone else connected with the show."

Did she make a specific proposal? Did they agree to listen? Has a deal been struck? And so on. Getting answers from DCC is a laborious and ongoing project.

Whatever DCC does, though, needs court approval. So perhaps she has a colleague prepared to send business her way. It's hard to imagine she jumped into the TV show business without a clear idea of where her show material would be coming from. If a colleague is ready to give court defendants a choice between appearing on a commercial TV show and exposing themselves nationally or taking a harsher punishment, I hope the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee will have some harsh things to say about it.

Whatever lies ahead, the record is now clear that Gunn has been using her position as judge to advance her personal financial interest, by laying the groundwork on her ongoing TV series and then, while judge, striking a deal on the announced show by the West Coast production company and attempting to bring DCC and unknown others into the show. I don't think the judicial ethical canons allow this, working on her own behalf OR the financial interests of others, such as the show producers. Perhaps the Judicial Discipline Committee will take a look in the month remaining of her service.

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