State bars probation officers on TV drug court | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, June 2, 2011

State bars probation officers on TV drug court

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2011 at 11:26 AM

JUDGE GUNN: Needs new probation officer actors.
  • JUDGE GUNN: Needs new 'probation officer' actors.
Tuesday, I revealed documents I’d received from a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Community Corrections about a deal in which state probation offices planned to work in off-hours on the reality TV “drug court” planned by Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn, soon to leave the bench.

The documents — and my post — revealed how the reality TV show might broadcast details from case files typically carefully protected in the probation and parole world. My post raised questions about a high degree of public agency cooperation in a private commercial enterprise that has been criticized by a judicial ethics panel for the undue influence it might bring to bear on people nominally seeking rehabilitation and a fresh start through the judicial system. My post noted that a document approving probation officer participation was sent two days BEFORE the DCC told me they knew nothing about it.

Amazing what a little sunlight will do. Late Wednesday, a DCC spokeswoman, Rhonda Sharp, told the Northwest Arkansas version of the Democrat-Gazette (but not me; and the D-G cheesily failed to credit the source of the information on which its questions were raised) that probation officers wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the TV show after all. “Potential for confusion,” she told the newspaper.

Yes, indeedy.

Sharp confirmed to me that the probation officers had been yanked, but said she was simply too busy to talk to me any further on the subject. I get it. As best as I can tell, I’ve been just about the only reporter not ready to give Gunn a trophy for using her public court as a springboard to TV and lining up all manner of public agencies — Washington County, the DCC, the public defender and others — to help her out. Sharp had defended the idea in exchanges with me Tuesday. Glad to see the NWA DOG join the party.

One other thing: I’d been told repeatedly that the plan mentioned in DCC documents of using referrals from other sitting circuit judges in Washington County for “actors” in the TV drama would NOT get approval from Circuit Judge William Storey of Fayetteville. I called him and Judge Michael Fitzhugh of Fort Smith, also mentioned as a potential source of case fodder, about this Tuesday. Neither returned my call. However, the NWA D-G got a terse comment from Storey. “That’s not accurate,” he’s reported to have said about state e-mail stating he'd participate. More bad information from the state. Maybe it should concentrate more on its job than on facilitating a private TV show. Unanswered, still, is the question of where the political heat has been coming from to get DCC to do this.

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