Supreme Court orders judge's removal | Arkansas Blog

Monday, January 25, 2010

Supreme Court orders judge's removal

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 3:14 PM

click to enlarge unknown.jpg

The Arkansas Supreme Court today ordered Circuit Judge Willard Proctor of Little Rock removed from the bench immediately.

The decision came in an unannounced filing on the court's website about mid-afternoon. Normally, court opinions are issued on Thursday. Having reached its decision that Proctor's ethical missteps merited removal, the court apparently wanted to waste no time.

Here's the opinion. It was unanimous, with two special justices sitting for justices who did not take part.

The order took effect immediately. Proctor was informed by the Supreme Court clerk, Leslie Steen. Vann Smith, administrative judge of the circuit based in Pulaski County, said he'd notified other judges who will rotate into Proctor's court to handle cases until Gov. Mike Beebe can appoint an interim judge to serve until an election.

The Court specifically said Proctor would have no rehearing opportunity. Also, he was removed under terms of a statute that specifies that he may not run for or be appointed as judge in the future.

Judge Smith said Proctor's criminal docket is of most concern. There are some cases in progress where  a mistrial might be possible, Smith said, but judges will work to avoid that.

Neither Proctor nor his attorney could be reached for comment. No one answered the phone in his office.

In deciding to remove Proctor, the court found a pattern of conduct, which -- however well-intentioned it might have been -- exhibited "poor judgment."

The Court's 64-page opinion upheld virtually all of the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission's findings that Proctor had repeatedly violated ethical canons -- particularly in relationships with defendants in his court, including one who was a guest in his home, and in the operation of the nonprofit Cycle Breakers probation program, which he started and whose financial operations were commingled with his court operations.

Proctor's actions first came to wide public attention in Mara Leveritt's Arkansas Times cover story on questionable activities of Cycle Breakers. Proctor assessed fees in his court that were payable to the organization. He used the promise of those fees to borrow money for a controversial building purchase. At one time, he dreamed of making the probation program a nationwide rehabilitation effort. This, and other violations the Court said, cast doubt on his ability to act impartially as a judge.

Proctor has continued to preside as if his future wasn't in doubt. He's reportedly worked on a future training retreat for staff this spring. His recent unusual activities in court have been taking breaks in trials so that his staff could participate in instructional programs in speaking Spanish. He'd also recently suggested that the courts apply for a grant to buy weapons for additional courthouse security.

The Supreme Court made some minor modifications in the commission's findings, but generally upheld the sweeping violations alleged against Proctor, notably his creation of "civil probation," a procedure that the Supreme Court ruled was outside the realm of state law, to produce fees for his probation program. The court said he'd also violated ethics rules by jailing, or threatening to jail, those who failed to pay. This effective debtor's prison was one of the most egregious of Proctor's activities that we reported in months of following the case.

The judge's conduct, the court said, was of a "grave" nature and affected public perception of the court. The court noted that, despite Proctor's vows to change his conduct, he had continued to use Cycle Breakers.

This raises an interesting point underscored in the opinion. Multiple complaints had been made four and five years ago about Proctor's abuse of the probation program. Those complaints were dismissed by previous leadership of the Judicial Discipline Commission after Proctor agreed to change his procedures. But he never did. Said the court:

While some might consider Judge Proctor’s motives admirable in that he only sought goals of rehabilitation, both the testimony before the Commission and Judge Proctor’s actions themselves clearly demonstrate that he used his position as a judge to further his personal desires and goals.



On a final note, Judge Proctor has steadfastly maintained to this court that his intentions were nothing but true. While that may be, good or true intentions do not absolve a judge of his or her ethical duties under the canons.

The court modified one alleged violation against Proctor so that it fell under a different ethical rule and in one instance disagreed that Proctor was guilty of an indisputable violation. But the opinion is mostly a recitation of firm agreement with multiple adverse findings. Justice Robert Brown, in a concurrence joined by Special Justice Paul Keith, noted some procedural shortcomings in the Judicial Commission's work, but said they didn't prejudice Proctor's case.

From the ArkTimes store


Comments (16)

Showing 1-16 of 16

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-16 of 16

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Arkansas Times Recommends: A Literary Edition

    Arkansas Times Recommends is a series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we've been enjoying this week.
    • Jul 1, 2016
  • Baseball fans have a new place to stay

    If you missed out on Razorback baseball home games this year because you couldn’t find a great place to stay, your problem is now solved: Staybridge Suites of Fayetteville is now fully renovated and located directly across from Baum Stadium, with free parking for hotel guests.
    • May 22, 2017
  • Federal judge reprimands John Goodson for misconduct in class-action case

    John Goodson  — the Texarkana attorney, D.C. lobbyist, and husband of Arkansas State Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson — was reprimanded today by a federal judge for his conduct in a class-action case.
    • Aug 3, 2016

Most Shared

  • In the margins

    A rediscovered violin concerto brings an oft-forgotten composer into the limelight.
  • Donald Trump is historically unpopular — and not necessarily where you think

    My colleagues John Ray and Jesse Bacon and I estimate, in the first analysis of its kind for the 2018 election season, that the president's waning popularity isn't limited to coastal cities and states. The erosion of his electoral coalition has spread to The Natural State, extending far beyond the college towns and urban centers that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. From El Dorado to Sherwood, Fayetteville to Hot Springs, the president's approval rating is waning.
  • Arkansans join House vote to gut Americans with Disabilities Act

    Despite fierce protests from disabled people, the U.S. House voted today, mostly on party lines, to make it harder to sue businesses for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Of course Arkansas congressmen were on the wrong side.

Most Recent Comments


© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation