Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism
Another interesting wrinkle in the Cycle Breakers saga has been the discovery of a large cache of correspondence — known in legalese as “ex parte letters” — received by former Judge Willard Proctor Jr. from those whom he had either sentenced to jail or put on probation.
As with the long list of record expungements made by Proctor, prosecutors say they were never informed of the existence of these letters, but should have been, given that some of them contain information about crimes the defendants had witnessed or committed, and outside-the-courtroom interaction between probationers and the judge.
Most of the letters, which fill a folder four inches thick, are stamped as having been received by Proctor's court during a few months in 2005. They were apparently found in a large number of closed case files that Proctor returned to the courthouse after he was removed from the bench in January. So far, the search of Proctor's files hasn't turned up any more letters written to the judge during his tenure on the bench.
The letters run the gamut from pleas for leniency to recitations of Biblical scripture to anger.
One man, complaining that Proctor sentenced him to prison, says that he's glad he's going to prison because it means he's done with Proctor's Cycle Breakers probation program.
Another woman, after saying that her criminal record had gotten her rejected for a job at Baptist Medical Center, asks to be put into Proctor's “civil probation” program. “I'm out of options here and have nowhere to turn,” the woman wrote. The plea apparently worked on Proctor. When the woman's name is typed into the criminal case database at the Pulaski County Clerk's website, no search results are returned. When the case number she provides in her letter — CR 2003002426 — is typed in, the record that comes up is labeled “EXPUNGED” and contains no information.
Some of the writers praise the judge for personally bringing them closer to God. At least one speaks warmly of Proctor reading scripture during Cycle Breakers meetings. In one letter, written in December 2005, a man incarcerated at the Pulaski County Regional Detention Center tells Proctor that “one of your [probation] officers actually got down on his knees in the probation offices and prayed.” Another man wrote: “Since the meetings at the church where we were reading from Matthew 14:20, I've been reading my Bible a lot… Thanks to you for getting me interested in the Bible.” Still another, in a letter labeled “Motion to Modified” begins by saying “[M]y hope is filled with my faith in Jesus and in you sir. Why is my faith believing in you because you are a man that not only speak of help but you bring the help that so many of our race needs sir.”
One of the strangest letters is a three-page missive from a probationer who was locked up in the Pulaski County Detention Center at the time. In the letter, the writer confesses to “smoking weed” while on probation, then pleads with Proctor to release him from jail. He goes on to say that others who lived at a halfway house where he had been placed while on probation were bringing in women at night and buying, selling and using drugs in the house. After telling the judge twice that he loves him, the writer ends with “You know I like when you called me Mrs. President.”
Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley said that his office never saw most if not all the letters in the file at the time they were written. Given that some of the letters detail crimes committed and personal interactions between the judge and defendants, Jegley said that's a problem.
“It's all inappropriate ... further indicative of the problems that Cycle Breakers caused as far as the transparency of the judicial process.”
A call to Proctor went unreturned.
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