Oxymoron: Judicial ethics | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Oxymoron: Judicial ethics

Posted By on Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 6:18 AM

Retired Circuit Judge David Burnett, who's done a persuasive job of demonstrating how tiresome he finds efforts of the West Memphis Three to receive justice, is running for state Senate.

The Arkansas Constitution requires sitting judges to step down when they file for another office. Burnett hasn't filed. He's sitting as a special judge in the WM3 appeals case. So he's violated no technical rule. But John Brummett argues that he is in violation of a broader judicial ethics rule about avoiding the appearance of impropriety. Burnett made matters worse by recent pronouncements to a newspaper reporter about the case. He's sick of it, Burnett said, and he also complained about a docuumentary film made on the original trials, with his help.

An appellant might feel better if the judge did not tell the newspaper he was sick of the case.

Burnett admitted his misjudgment in a phone conversation Monday. “I shouldn’t have said that, and I’m sorry,” he said.

Surely you see the problem with a declared state Senate candidate serving as a judge. Is Burnett getting quoted as a judge or as a man trying to defend himself in the context of his candidacy for the state Senate?

If Burnett rules against these defendants in their latest pleading, will they have reason to be satisfied that they got full and fair consideration?

I shouldn’t think so.

Make no mistake. It's in Burnett's electoral interest to continue to railroad the WM3. Even a carefully considered decision (absent in some of the interim actions in this case so far, including funny business at the trial and Supreme Court level on sealing of information about jury tampering in the original case) will be unavoidably viewed in the context of his candidacy. He should get off the case.

As mentioned yesterday, Blytheville Mayor Barrett Harrison is expected to be a candidate in the Democratic primary for the Senate seat, now held by term-limited Steve Bryles.

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