Judge Proctor hearing continues | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Judge Proctor hearing continues

Posted By on Tue, Apr 28, 2009 at 11:46 AM

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The state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission's hearing on alleged ethical misconduct by Circuit Judge Willard Proctor continues for a second day today.

On the jump, from Mara Leveritt, more testimony from former employees about the intertwined connections between a nonprofit organization he started, Cycle Breakers Inc., and the Cycle Breakers probation program operated in his court. Probationers produce substantial money that goes to the nonprofit, particularly to pay off the note on a problem real estate investment the organization was never able to use in the East End. Parents at a nearby school objected.

Employees also talked about his unusual behavior, including a close relationship with a probationer, and an "anger management" technique. Employees told of routine outbursts and threats at them and others, including the Arkansas Times. He allegedly called a court reporter a "lying ho" and said of the Times, which has written extensively about him, "Those lying crackers, I'm going to sue them."

By Mara Leveritt

Kenny Haskins, the judge’s former chief probation officer, testified that the judge had had him sign a contract in his stead for Cycle Breakers Inc.. When officers of the nonprofit corporation Cycle Breakers decided to purchase a building to house the organization, he and the judge drove around looking at sites. An unused school building on Apperson Street was selected. Proctor told Haskins to sign the real estate contract. “Judge Proctor said Cycle Breakers had approved for me to sign these documents as it relates to the purchase of this piece of property. He said he couldn’t do it because he was a judge.”


Haskins said that when he was not available to sign another document, he “authorized” Proctor to sign his (Haskins') name, which the judge did.


David Sachar, questioning Haskins for the Commission, elicited testimony that Haskins had seen one probationer, Demoreo Davis, in Proctor’s car and in Proctor’s home. Proctor’s attorney Austin Porter than questioned Haskin at length. He didn’t mention the building or the contractors or the probationer, but asked him to draw a distinction between the Cycle Breakers probation program, as run through the court, and the nonprofit organization. Haskins said the two worked hand in hand. “One couldn’t survive without the other.”


Haskins, in a response to a question, said he had not seen the judge curse or be angry with other employees, as a witness Monday had said. When angry with him, Haskins said, however, the judge was silent with him. “It could be pretty brutal.”


He also said he believed money receivecd by Cycle Breakers was accounted for.


The three commissioners hearing the case also questioned Haskins. Judge Leon Jamison asked about the effort to draw a distinction between Cycle Breakers, the probation program, and Cycle Breakers, the nonprofit corporation. Haskins reiterated one could not survive without the other.


Zane Chrisman, the next witness, was a former Proctor law clerk. She said that Proctor drove Demoreo Davis in his car and had her drive him, too. He said, “He told me he would take Demoreo Davis back to his house and sit on him so he couldn’t get high on weekends. He said if anybody knew about this he would lose his judgeship”


Asked if Proctor had gotten angry with employees, she said that at one meeting he’d talked about an anger management tactic that had worked for him. She said Proctor told her he would write a person’s name on a piece of paper and stick it on the bottom of his shoe. Whenever he thought about that person, he would stomp his foot. He said he told her he’d done that with several employees and it had worked for him.


She said she’d also heard the judge praying his enemies would be “struck down” and had once heard him tell a staffer, “Get away from me, Satan.”


In the afternoon, case coordinator LaShannon Robinson was asked about threats the judge had made. She said he threatened her with losing her job after a critical state financial audit. She asked about negative press he'd received, including in the Arkansas Times.

She said he was "screaming and stomping" and referred to a court reporter he eventually fired, Neva Warford, as "this lying ho, she needs to be gone." Of the Times, he reportedly said, "Those lying crackers. I'm going to sue them."

Robinson said that Proctor had warned his staff against getting him mad enough to be called in for a one-on-one meeting. That meant, he said, that he was so mad he could kill them.

Asked whether he'd ever said anything threatening about prosecutors, she said, yes, that he'd said of Tanya Goolsby, "that wench is on my list."

Robinson said she'd attended a Quorum Court meeting at which Proctor said he didn't use county postage. "That's not true," she said. She said he used the county to send out stacks of letters to probationers to benefit Cycle Breakers operations. Almost half of the office's postal budget went to Cycle Breakers, she estimated, because after the state audit forced a reduction in spending, it dropped by that amount.

Proctor's attorney, Austin Porter, noted that Robinson still worked for Proctor and commented it must not be an abusive environment. She said it was. Why was she still there then? "That's like asking a wife who's being beaten why she doesn't leave. I need my job." She said he'd threatened her with a loss of job at least three times. Porter suggested that didn't concern her. "Of course it did," she responded.

Tempers flared at the end of the day over documents the defense claimed it had not received before the hearing.

Proctor staff member Treva Cooper was sworn in as a witness. Proctor’s lawyers objected to her testimony. She referred to documents they had not received. The three-member panel met privately and concluded it would not allow her to testify.

Tanya Goolsby was then called. She’s a deputy prosecutor. She said she was division chief for Proctor’s court in 2006. She talked about probation revocation, which she said was handled in a very different process in Proctor’s court compared with other courts. Cases were kept open for extended periods. Apparently the judge thought potential revocation was a tool to force compliance. The problem, Goolsby said, is that others couldn’t be heard on the issue. She said he was “hands-on” with probationers. He’d say, “the state is trying to put you in prison, I’m trying to help you.”

She said she saw a lot of money changing hands, something she’d never seen in court before. She said she saw the judge himself accept cash at a show-cause hearing.

She talked about Proctor’s unique “civil probation” procedure. “I asked what that was and they could not tell me,” she said.

Once cases were sealed, signaling completion of probation, Goolsby believed Proctor couldn’t require probationers to continue to come to meetings and meet other requirements, but he did.

“I found the judge to be a great, fair and good judge during the trial process. I found once the person was put on probation, the judge’s main role was to be probation officer.”  She was accustomed to seeing restitution, fines and court costs collected. But Proctor collected fees she’d never heard of – for missed homework, drug testing, missed meetings. “I found a lot of defendants being treated unfairly,” she said. She thought it was unfair for them to be in court and held in contempt without having an attorney present and for being jailed for being behind in monetary payments.

Goolsby began referring to documents she'd brought, again prompting an objection from Proctor’s attorney because he hadn’t seen them. The commission said it didn’t have such documents before the hearing either. Judge Jamison, after a private conference, said there was no evidence the commission had ever received the documents.

Proctor was visibly upset. “How can I do this in a night,” he said, referring to answering records she’d brought to the hearing to talk about. The commission said it would give both sides the night to review the records. Testimony resumes Wednesday.

 


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