Tracking the drug court files | Arkansas Blog

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tracking the drug court files

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 3:15 PM

CLOSED FILES: What Mary Ann Gunn returned to the County Courthouse.
  • 'CLOSED FILES': What Mary Ann Gunn returned to the County Courthouse.
Mary Ann Gunn, the former circuit judge who left the bench to film a reality TV show based on the drug court she once oversaw in Fayetteville, wasn't happy about an amended complaint filed last week by W.H. Taylor of Fayetteville on behalf of clients who were former participants in drug court.

Taylor has sued producers of the TV show, "Last Shot With Judge Gunn," not Gunn herself, to gather up all past videos of drug court and to assure that they and other court records are sealed and not in the hands of others.

Taylor's suit says Gunn acted in bad faith in removing court records from the courthouse. Some 76 boxes have since been returned and placed in a locked room. Gunn was quoted in the Northwest Arkansas Times as saying the boxes were her notes, not case files, and that the boxes didn't include medical records. Taylor has asserted that his clients' records did include medical and other personal information. He also has photographs of the returned files that identify some as "closed files."

Taylor's work on the lawsuit has led to a trove of the judge's e-mail, copied from county records. It shows how hard she worked on setting up the commercial TV show while on the bench.

While e-mails of others refer to the potential of fees, a book deal or speaking engagements for Gunn, she ultimately said she didn't intend to take fees from the show while judge. But she wrote in an e-mail in May 2010 to the potential show producers:

I will continue to set up meetings, phone conferences, court and other relevant matters for your visit, keeping in mind that we need to confirm with appropriate entities that we can indeed conduct drug court and have the proceedings broadcast nationwide. We can discuss compensation after I have briefed you on what has been discussed yet undecided. MAG

Initially, the plans were for the show to begin while she was still on the bench and use people appearing in the court. An adverse opinion from the Arkansas Judicial Ethics Advisory Commission and the Arkansas Supreme Court against televising drug court at all scrapped that plan. Gunn left the bench for TV production and now uses people in treatment programs as actors in a replica of drug court.

The e-mails indicate that public employees copied photos and records for the benefit of TV show producers. They also indicate an ongoing interest on the part of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission in Gunn's TV venture.

Here's a selection of the e-mail produced as a result of Taylor's FOI request. They date back to April 2010, apparently about the time an idea for a TV show was hatched with encouragement from Carolyn Long, the former TV anchor than working on Jones TV, an offshoot of the Jones Foundation. That TV operation has been closed.

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