Friday, September 7, 2012

Judicial panel suspends Hamburg judge over Walmart fight

Posted By on Fri, Sep 7, 2012 at 2:14 PM

SCRAPPING AT WALMART: Freeze frame of Walmart security video shows Pope, with back to camera, talking to his wife.
  • SCRAPPING AT WALMART: Freeze frame of Walmart security video shows Pope, with back to camera, talking to his wife.

JUDGE SAM POPE: Disciplined over Walmart fight.
  • JUDGE SAM POPE: Disciplined over Walmart fight.
You read here first about the investigation by the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission of Circuit Judge Sam Pope of Hamburg for an April 5 fight with his estranged wife, Gayle Zimmerman, and a male friend in a Crossett Walmart.

Today, the Commission announced that Pope had agreed to a 30-day suspension without pay and to apologize for violations of judicial ethical rules. He promised to behave better in the future and to attend an anger management program. The state Supreme Court must sign off on the agreed outcome.

Here's the release on the case, which includes the police report and letter of apology. Pope says the "emotional and physical effects" of the end of his 33-year marriage had been difficult. He said he'd sought counseling and urged others in the same position to do the same. He acknowledged that his actions were "not appropriate or acceptable."

Crossett police filed no charges in the scrap, saying neither party wanted to press charges. Pope said at the time only that he was going through a divorce — it had drawn local press attention for some contention over items taken from the couple's home — and didn't want to discuss particulars.

The Crossett police report indicated that Pope, 58, greeted Bill Murray, 57, of Crossett, with the words "Hello, asshole" when he saw him with his ex-wife Gale Zimmerman in the Walmart. Murray replied "Hello, asshole" and the two began fighting. Pope and Zimmerman's daughter was also present. Pope complained that his wife had struck him three times and he wanted to press charges. Walmart security separated Pope and Murray, the police report says, and when police arrived, Pope reportedly "kept trying to get to Bill Murray," who "had blood on both sides of his face." Police arrested both men at the store, but released them shortly after when both agreed to not press charges. In the Judicial proceeding, Pope said he didn't believe he caused the bleeding that Murray experienced, saying it might have occurred as Murray grappled him. He said he'd only struck Murray with an open-handed "hand shiver."

Pope also told investigators that motions he made with his arm toward his wife, as seen in the video, were not attempts to strike her, but to "flick" a cross she wore around her neck and as a comment on her presence in the store with a boyfriend.

Pope's wife has complained since to me that law enforcement officials were reluctant to act against Pope because of cases in his court. Prosecutor Thomas Deen of Monticello, in providing me with a copy of the police report and the Walmart security camera video (sorry, we couldn't figure out a way to load the video) indicated the investigation was closed.

The Ashley News Observer reported in March that the sheriff's office was called about a number of items taken from Pope's home while he was on a mission trip in Central America, but an investigator concluded it was "likely the result of a domestic dispute and pending divorce." Missing items include artwork, books, a bookshelf, outdoor iron and wicker furniture, glasses, silverware, dining table, 200-piece set of china, living room furniture, desk and gun closet holding rifles, shotguns, pistols, gun stocks and scopes.

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