There's an old blues song that says "Good morning Judge, why do you look so mean, sir?". Andi Davis, a Hot Springs lawyer, might want to sing it — changing "sir" to "ma'am" — the next time she appears in court before Judge Marcia Hearnsberger.
According to Davis, Judge Hearnsberger, of Garland Circuit Court, has been exceptionally mean to her, including ordering her out of the courtroom once, allegedly for showing too much cleavage, and on another occasion making her wear a surgical mask while trying a case. Davis, who says she's bewildered by the judge's hostility, wants Judge Hearnsberger to excuse herself from all of Davis' cases, and has filed a motion toward that end. The judge has not ruled on the motion, and she declined to discuss the Davis matter with a newspaper reporter because, she said through a spokesperson, it's pending before her.
The state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission dismissed a complaint filed by Davis against Hearnsberger. A letter from David A. Stewart, executive director of the Commission, said an investigative panel had reviewed the complaint and "The investigation initiated by this complaint did not reveal or find any evidence of judicial misconduct, wrongdoing or incapacity within the Commission's jurisdiction." Elaboration was unavailable.
"I honest to God feel like I can't get a fair trial in front of her," Davis said in an interview. As to why the judge is mistreating her, and thus her clients, Davis said, "I don't have a damn clue."
Before filing her motion for recusal, "I tried to handle it quietly," Davis said. "I sent her a letter at first. She said no."
The letter from Davis to the judge began, "I know that our level of communication has broken down entirely."
The judge replied, in part, that there was no reason for her to recuse. "How you or your clients choose to perceive this Court is your decision. ... However, your perception of the Court does not bias or prejudice the Court against you as an attorney or your clients and it does not provide a basis to request the Court to recuse from a case simply because you are involved in it. ... You are correct when you state the appearance of propriety, fairness and impartiality is important in the Courtroom. ... It has certainly been my goal to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards as a judge and I expect everyone else associated with the system to do the same in their capacities."
Davis' motion was filed specifically on behalf of James Allen Echols, who's charged in Hearnsberger's court with incest and rape, but Davis says that if necessary, she'll file a similar motion in every case she has before Hearnsberger. Garland Circuit Court has three other judges.
Davis said she was sitting in the courtroom awaiting hearings for clients in criminal cases, along with other lawyers who were doing the same thing, when Judge Hearnsberger "had her assistant take me out in the hallway and tell me I had to leave on the grounds that I was showing my cleavage, and it was distracting to the inmates."
"I admit I have boobs, and I like them, but I was not wearing a damn sparkly halter top in the courtroom," Davis said. "I refused to leave unless she put the request on the record and she refused, so my punishment was that I sit there and wait until the end of the line [of other lawyers and clients]. If the rationale was that I was being kicked out because my boobs were distracting the inmates, then what purpose does it serve to make me sit in front of them for three more hours?" (A photograph accompanying this article shows Davis in the outfit she says she wore to court that day.)
Davis said that on another occasion, she coughed a few times while she was at the courthouse. Judge Hearnsberger heard her and asked if she was sick. Davis said no. Later, Hearnsberger's assistant called Davis' office and said that Davis would have to wear a surgical mask in court that day because Hearnsberger feared she had bird flu. "I don't know whether she was just trying to embarrass me, or she was actually afraid of bird flu," Davis said. "I tried a case for three or four hours with a mask on. And won." (The decision was Hearnsberger's. It was a non-jury trial.)
Unlike other lawyers, Davis has very limited access to Judge Hearnsberger's office, she said. "They won't take phone calls from my office. I have to slip papers through a crack in the door. My client in the Garland County Jail has more access to people on the other side of the door than I do to Judge Hearnsberger's office."
The judge also has accused Davis of texting in court, according to Davis. She said she was only looking at her calendar and anyway, other lawyers text in Hearnsberger's court all the time.
Davis is 34, and originally from Wickes. She's practiced in Hot Springs for nearly four years.