Judge on hot seat ad­mits in­ci­vil­ity

Drug-court ju­rist gets state cen­sure

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN LYNCH

County Cir­cuit Judge Mary Mc­Gowan, whose han­dling of the Lit­tle Rock-area’s drug court has been harshly crit­i­cized by Prose­cut­ing At­tor­ney Larry Je­g­ley, on Fri­day ad­mit­ted to spe­cific in­stances of rude and un­pro­fes­sional be­hav­ior to court staff mem­bers, a crim­i­nal de­fen­dant and two lawyers, one of them a Je­g­ley deputy as­signed to the drug court.

Mc­Gowan’s ad­mis­sion that she has vi­o­lated ju­di­cial stan­dards spared her a pub­lic hear­ing be­fore the state Ju­di­cial Dis­ci­pline and Dis­abil­ity Com­mis­sion that would have re­quired the ethics panel to take tes­ti­mony from the judge’s ac­cusers, as well as hear from wit­nesses called on her be­half, in a trial-like set­ting that could have led to Mc­Gowan be­ing re­moved from the bench.

The com­mis­sion is a con­sti­tu­tion­ally cre­ated ju­di­cial reg­u­la­tor em­pow­ered to sanc­tion judges, al­though the au­thor­ity to re­move judges from of­fice re­sides en­tirely with the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Reached by phone Thurs­day af­ter­noon, McWASHINGTON

Gowan, a judge for 27 years, de­clined to com­ment.

Mc­Gowan’s ar­range­ment with the com­mis­sion re­quires her to un­dergo train­ing over the next year about how judges are re­quired to con­duct them­selves in the court­room. The 70-year-old ju­rist also will sub­mit to reg­u­lar mon­i­tor­ing of her court­room by the reg­u­la­tors for the rest of her ju­di­cial ca­reer.

Elected in 1990, Mc­Gowan is ex­pected to re­tire when her term ex­pires at the end of 2020. Judges lose their re­tire­ment ben­e­fits if they are elected to the bench af­ter turn­ing 70. Mc­Gowan is one of 17 judges in the 6th Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit that serves Perry and Pu­laski coun­ties.

By ac­cept­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for her be­hav­ior and ne­go­ti­at­ing her sanc­tions with the com­mis­sion, the judge re­ceived a seven-page writ­ten cen­sure from the panel’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, David Sachar.

Sachar him­self is one of four com­plainants cited in the sanc­tion­ing pa­pers.

His com­plaint, based on au­dio record­ings of the judge, de­scribed a Fe­bru­ary 2017 in­ci­dent in which Mc­Gowan be­rated Je­g­ley deputy Vickie Ewenike, the prose­cu­tor who was as­signed to drug court at the time. Mc­Gowan or­dered Ewenike out of the court­room dur­ing a hear­ing with a drug-court de­fen­dant then con­tin­ued to con­duct the pro­ceed­ing with­out a prose­cu­tor, Sachar stated.

“Mc­Gowan’s de­meanor as re­flected in the au­dio record­ings was im­pa­tient and dis­cour­te­ous to Ewenike, and undig­ni­fied for a judge,” he wrote.

Reached for com­ment Fri­day, Je­g­ley said he’s said all he needs to say about the judge, but noted that the com­mis­sion’s find­ings, ac­knowl­edged by Mc­Gowan as cor­rect, vin­di­cate his ob­ser­va­tions about her.

In a June let­ter to the Arkansas Supreme Court, Je­g­ley de­scribed drug court as a “catas­tro­phe” that he had stopped sup­port­ing a year ear­lier be­cause of Mc­Gowan’s bul­ly­ing be­hav­ior in court. Crim­i­nal de­fen­dants can­not get a drug-court as­sign­ment with­out the prose­cu­tor’s ap­proval.

Drug court is a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive pro­gram for de­fen­dants who must ad­mit they have sub­stance-abuse prob­lems and sub­mit to a court-mon­i­tor­ing pro­gram. De­fen­dants who com­plete the drug-court cur­ricu­lum can have their crim­i­nal cases dis­missed and ex­punged from the record.

Mc­Gowan’s fel­low judges have en­dorsed a plan that would al­low Mc­Gowan to close the cases she is su­per­vis­ing, then trans­fer the court to Judge Patti James.

The Supreme Court jus­tices, who must ap­prove any cir­cuit-court re­struc­tur­ing, have ap­pointed a re­tired judge to re­view 6th Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit op­er­a­tions and present a rec­om­men­da­tion on how the Pu­laski and Perry county courts should be or­ga­nized.

Sachar’s cen­sure let­ter cites these other com­plaints about Mc­Gowan:

Deputy Pub­lic De­fender Mac Carder de­scribes the judge cut­ting him off dur­ing a Novem­ber 2016 drug-court hear­ing while he was try­ing to rep­re­sent his client. Mc­Gowan or­dered the client to leave the court while Carder was ad­dress­ing the judge.

In a Jan­uary 2017 drug­court hear­ing, Mc­Gowan “raised her voice and used a dis­cour­te­ous tone” to de­fen­dant John M. Miles, who com­plained about the en­counter.

An­other com­plainant was now-for­mer Mc­Gowan staff mem­ber, N’Ell Jones.

“Mc­Gowan’s de­meanor as re­flected in the au­dio record­ings was im­pa­tient, dis­cour­te­ous and undig­ni­fied for a judge,” the cen­sure let­ter states. “Mc­Gowan has been im­pa­tient, dis­cour­te­ous and undig­ni­fied to pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers … with mem­bers of her own court staff.”

Mc­Gowan’s court­room de­meanor — the way she treats lawyers and de­fen­dants — has been called into ques­tion be­fore.

In 2008, North Lit­tle Rock at­tor­ney Ce­cily Skarda, at­tempt­ing to un­seat Mc­Gowan in that year’s elec­tion, bluntly crit­i­cized the man­ner in which the judge talked to lawyers and de­fen­dants. Skarda de­scribed her as in­sult­ing, rude, ar­ro­gant and mean-spir­ited. Mc­Gowan de­nied en­gag­ing in any rude be­hav­ior and at­trib­uted Skarda’s crit­i­cism as sour grapes from a lawyer Mc­Gowan had ruled against. Mc­Gowan eas­ily won her fifth term that year, de­feat­ing Skarda by cap­tur­ing twice as many votes.

But about six months later, in Novem­ber 2008, the dis­ci­plinary com­mis­sion rep­ri­manded Mc­Gowan in part for “lapses in de­meanor” while on the bench on “sev­eral oc­ca­sions” prior to May 2005.

“Specif­i­cally, you were not al­ways pa­tient and cour­te­ous to lit­i­gants and lawyers and oth­ers with whom you deal in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity,” the twopage sanc­tion­ing let­ter by David Ste­wart, Sachar’s pre­de­ces­sor as di­rec­tor, states.

In Fri­day’s let­ter, Mc­Gowan ac­knowl­edged vi­o­lat­ing six rules es­tab­lished in two of the four canons for judges es­tab­lished in the Code of Ju­di­cial Con­duct:

1) A judge should up­hold and pro­mote the in­de­pen­dence, in­tegrity and im­par­tial­ity of the ju­di­ciary, and shall avoid im­pro­pri­ety and the ap­pear­ance of im­pro­pri­ety.

2) A judge shall per­form the du­ties of the ju­di­cial of­fice im­par­tially, com­pe­tently and dili­gently.

The four canons con­tain 39 rules for judges.

In Novem­ber 2016, Mc­Gowan ac­cepted an “in­for­mal ad­just­ment” let­ter from the com­mis­sion for tak­ing too long to rule — 13 months — on a law­suit filed against the com­mis­sion by Lit­tle Rock at­tor­ney Sam Per­roni.


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