New legal action over Mary Ann Gunn's drug court | Arkansas Blog

Friday, October 21, 2011

New legal action over Mary Ann Gunn's drug court

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2011 at 11:54 AM

W.H. Taylor, a Fayetteville lawyer, has sued producers of "Last Shot with Judge Gunn" to seal videos and other records of the state drug court Mary Ann Gunn once ran in Washington County. Three former drug court participants said they agreed to be in the program in hopes of clearing their records and believed that those court records would be sealed.

Taylor's complaint — full copy here — says those records were removed from the courthouse by drug court personnel and used in the production of the TV show. He wants those records sealed now as well as TV shows of drug court made by Jones TV, an arm of a charitable foundation that is has been shut down.

The complaint argues that Gunn acted in bad faith in removing the records from the courthouse and it's unclear whether all have been returned, though it mentions a belief that 76 boxes of records are now under lock and key at the courthouse. Complainants say the material includes medical records protected by federal law.

Complainants said they don't believe they ever granted the necessary permission to allow filming of the court sessions. One plaintiff, Sharina Watkins, specifically objected, but was filmed anyway. The complaint quotes Gunn as having insisted on filming her because she was articulate, had an interesting story and was "good television."

The complaint, an amendment of an earlier lawsuit, reveals that Taylor has obtained public records, apparently the judge's e-mail, that indicates she was working to find material for TV while running the court. In jailing Watkins once, the complaint said "evidence has been found in the form of an E-mail from an agent of the defendants [TV producers] to the former Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn and Prosecutor Lisa Dennis that the defendants were willing to go the extra mile to get her on "Last Shot with Judge Gunn" using the following cold-hearted language in a May 2011 E-mail:"

It may take a few visits to build trust with some of the more fearful applications (Sharina Watkins, etc.) but we have time on our hands.

The complaint says the filming was done unlawfully, according to state Supreme Court guidelines, but the plaintiffs agreed because they would have done anything to stay out of prison.

There's lots more, but this is the core of the items alleged by Taylor: The judge, and other members of her staff and the justice system, were copying records and preparing material for use in a commercial television show. That's not what the state paid those people to do. If it resulted in confidential files and video reaching TV production companies and airing on the Internet and in the syndicated TV show in the name of "good television," it also wasn't justice.

The suit seeks return of all records and videos provided to TV producers and sealing of records of the plaintiffs.

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