Substitute judge in Sherwood hot check cases declines to recuse; allegedly said that he hoped civil suit would fail | Arkansas Blog

Monday, October 10, 2016

Substitute judge in Sherwood hot check cases declines to recuse; allegedly said that he hoped civil suit would fail

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2016 at 1:19 PM

Lawyers helping represent the named plaintiffs in the civil rights lawsuit filed against Sherwood over the way officials fleece hot check defendants appeared in court this morning to ask a substitute judge to recuse himself, with an attorney for plaintiffs claiming Hamilton made comments praising Sherwood District Court Judge Milas "Butch" Hale III and said he hoped the civil suit would fail. 

click to enlarge Brownstein (left) and Koch, outside Sherwood District Court this morning. - DAVID KOON
  • David Koon
  • Brownstein (left) and Koch, outside Sherwood District Court this morning.
We visited Sherwood Hot Check Court and reported on the pending civil suit back in September. The lawsuit claims that poor hot check defendants in Pulaski County routinely find themselves on a treadmill of debt in Sherwood District Court over piddling original amounts, trapped by spiraling fines, fees and incarcerations every time they fail to appear before Hale or can't pay their fines. Some people we talked to have been appearing before Hale for over 15 years on the same hot check and are still thousands in debt. 

Hale has recused from sitting in judgement on the hot check cases of the four named plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against Sherwood: Nikki Petree, Charles Dade, Nikita Lewis and Lee Andrew Robertson. North Little Rock District Judge Jim Hamilton, who normally decides criminal, civil and small claims matters, has been appointed to serve as judge on those cases. 

North Little Rock attorney Reggie Koch, who appeared this morning with ACLU cooperating attorney Bettina Brownstein, said he was in North Little Rock court before Hamilton two weeks ago on an unrelated matter when the judge allegedly told him, after an appearance by Koch's client, that Hamilton knew Hale to be a decent man and hoped the federal lawsuit would be dismissed. Later, Koch learned that Hamilton had been named as the replacement judge on the plaintiffs' cases and brought it to the attention of other attorneys involved in the civil suit, including Brownstein.

Hamilton, who this morning never denied he made the statements Koch claimed he did, denied the request that he step down from the plaintiffs' cases, asking Koch — who said he has been appearing before Hamilton in North Little Rock District Court on other matters for over a decade — whether he's ever shown himself to be less than impartial in other cases. Koch said he had not, but said the appearance of impropriety should be avoided.

Hamilton quickly moved on to the cases of the four civil suit defendants. He wiped the slate clean for plaintiff Nikki Petree, 40, who wrote a check for $26.93 in September 2011 and had a debt of $2,656.93 in court costs, fines and fees at the time the lawsuit was filed. Hamilton also reinstated the driver's license of plaintiff Lee Andrew Robertson, 44, who the lawsuit said wrote 11 checks totaling $200 over a two-week period in 2009, and was $3,054 debt as of Sept. 1. Hamilton set court dates for Dade and Lewis. 

Outside the courtroom after the hearings, Brownstein said that Petree was "destitute but ecstatic" at the news that her debt to Sherwood was cleared after five years. "She wants to go back to work and she needs her driver's license," Brownstein said. "It'll be another day before she gets it. That's been a long, long road." 

Brownstein said it's difficult for an attorney to ask a judge to recuse, and it is never done lightly. She said she still believes Hamilton should have stepped down. "It's the appearance of impropriety, as Reggie said," Brownstein said. "We had no reason to think he wouldn't be anything but fair, but there is that appearance. He had spoken out of turn to Mr. Koch. He should not have expressed an opinion about this case in open court to Mr. Koch and then come and preside as the judge." 

Brownstein said that based on Hamilton's actions toward the defendants in court this morning, he seemed to be acting in a fair and courteous manner. "Of course he's coming in on the tail end of a case that's gone on for years and years," Brownstein said, "so he can't fix what's going on. He's still instituting the stuff that was done to these defendants by Judge Hale."  

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

From the ArkTimes store

Favorite

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

More by David Koon

  • Join us Sept. 21 for Pig & Swig!

    Make plans to join Arkansas Times at 6 p.m. Sept. 21 for Pig & Swig, an event centered around two of life's finest pleasures: sippin' whiskey and fine swine. The event, which benefits the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, will be held at the Heifer Project Pavilion and Urban Farm near the Clinton Center.
    • Sep 18, 2017
  • French Hill to join anti-violence leaders for MacArthur Park press conference

    A press release from the office of Arkansas Congressman French Hill says that Hill will join a press conference set for tomorrow that will spotlight the efforts of the Victory Over Violence Coalition, which seeks to promote peaceful resolution of conflict.The press conference will begin at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Little Rock's MacArthur Park, at the corner of E. 9th and Commerce Streets.
    • Sep 15, 2017
  • Family of man shot by LRPD claims cruiser dashcam video confirms their account

    Attorneys for the family of a man killed by an LRPD officer in October 2016 allege that a video released to the media yesterday, shot from a dashcam in the officer's cruiser, both proves the family's account of the shooting and shows that the LRPD didn't fully comply with the state Freedom of Information Act when the family requested all materials related to the case. Attorneys for the family say the video was not included in materials released to them following a recent FOIA request.
    • Sep 14, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Auditor Lea caught not telling the truth

    State Auditor Andrea Lea, who began her tenure in statewide office with a degree of competence unseen in some other Republican counterparts (think Treasurer Dennis Milligan particularly), is becoming more deeply mired in a political scandal.
    • Mar 4, 2016
  • 'Million-Dollar Thursday': A visit to Sherwood's hot check court

    We take a visit to the weekly hot check court in Sherwood District Court, the subject of a recent civil rights lawsuit filed by ACLU Arkansas and others, who say the system there results in a modern-day debtor's prison
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Another Republican miracle-working governor

    Great piece in Washington Post on the budget crisis in Louisiana. Big tax cuts and corporate welfare will do that to a state, particularly to a state whose previous governor, Republican Bobby Jindal, refused to join the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion. There's a lesson there for Arkansas.
    • Mar 4, 2016

Most Shared

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation