Disorder in the court | Arkansas Blog

Monday, June 8, 2009

Disorder in the court

Posted By on Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 3:17 PM

The case of Circuit Judge Willard Proctor keeps getting messier.

Now that a state judicial panel has recommended Proctor's removal from the bench for unethical handling of probationers in his court, Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley in a letter Friday formally asked Proctor to avoid further conflicts. Jegley asked that he not assign new clients to the Cycle Breakers program Proctor created; that he not revoke probation of anyone currently in the program based on failure to pay fees; that he be sure defendants have counsel at hearings for probation revocation, and, finally, that attorneys with ties to Cycle Breakers not be allowed to serve as attorneys for such defendants or be appointed to serve as special judges in Proctor's court.

Well, Proctor wasn't in court Monday.

Who should show up to fill the judge's spot on the bench but Little Rock District Judge Mark Leverett? In theory, special judges are elected from those who regularly practice in the court. Leverett, under judicial ethics rules, may no longer have a private law practice. He's paid more than $130,000, nominally to be the full-time judge of the city environmental court.

His appearance was not a problem only because Leverett is a judge. It's a problem because he was private attorney for Cycle Breakers, back in the early days when it was blowing and going and Proctor and allies were dreaming of a national chain of rehab facilities funded by court fees. Leverett was the attorney who initially resisted the Times' efforts to open the public records of Cycle Breakers.

Prosecutor Jegley's office objected to Leverett's election Monday, but they were outvoted by defense lawyers. Then it objected, as each case was called, to his hearing cases covered by circumstances in the letter. Leverett, observers said, wasn't happy with the development and ultimately passed all the cases until Proctor's return on Tuesday. He threw a "hissy fit," Jegley said he was told.

Leverett should have stayed 50 miles away from the appearance that he was stepping into his former legal client and friend's shoes to continue his discredited work.

Jegley said he'd moved carefully during the time when only allegations pended against Proctor, but in the face of formal findings about improprieties, he's required now to act to prevent future conflicts. "I've walked as carefully as I can. If he wants to be pissed about it, he can be pissed."

Proctor doesn't return our calls. Nor does Leverett since our reporting on some ethical questions pertaining to him.

MEANWHILE: Filings have arrived on the recommendation for Proctor's removal, pending before the full nine-member state judicial discipline commission. The staff calls for an even stiffer finding than the three-judge panel recommended, including removal while his expected appeal pends. Proctor's filing says he's done no willful wrong.

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