Circuit judge faces ethics accusations, charges of tax evasion
Saline County Circuit Judge Bobby McCallister was charged with four counts of felony tax evasion Tuesday, hours after the state’s judicial ethics watchdog accused the judge of misconduct for neglecting to pay most of his taxes over the past two decades.
David Gibbons, a specially appointed prosecutor investigating McCallister’s tax i ssues, filed charges against the
22nd Judicial Circuit judge over failure to pay or file Arkansas tax returns in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
Each charge is punishable by up to six years in prison, as well as a $10,000 fine.
An arrest warrant was issued late in the afternoon for McCallister. The judge was registered to attend a training conference hosted by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals outside Washington, D.C., according to a spokesman for the organization.
Neither Gibbons nor a spokesman for the Saline County sheriff ’s office could be reached Tuesday on whether the warrant had been served.
Earlier Tuesday, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission leveled formal charges of judicial misconduct against McCallister, accusing the judge of failing to follow the law while undermining public faith in the judiciary.
The misconduct charges, if validated, could lead to sanctions against McCallister, including suspension or removal from the bench.
Now that McCallister faces criminal charges, the judicial ethics agency will immediately ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to temporarily suspend the judge from the bench, with pay, said David Sachar, the commission director.
In a 2015 deposition given
to attorneys as the judge went through an ongoing divorce from his wife, McCallister said he failed to file the couple’s tax returns for all but two years between 1995 and 2014, when his wife filed for divorce.
According to portions of the deposition transcript included in the charges released by the judicial discipline commission, McCallister described not having enough savings to pay his taxes after buying a house on Sevier Street in Benton that turned into a “money pit.”
“In all honesty, I just panicked,” McCallister said, according the transcript.
Asked why he continued to ignore filing taxes after he became a judge in 2009 — and started on a $160,000 annual salary — McCallister said he had no reason “that makes any sense at all.”
In a public court hearing earlier this year, McCallister repeatedly pleaded his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked about his tax issues.
McCallister’s attorneys declined to comment Tuesday. The judge did not respond to multiple phone messages.
A pair of federal tax liens filed on McCallister’s properties in Saline County in 2011 showed he owed more than $104,000 in taxes to the federal government. In addition, the state filed a lien against him the next year for $1,414.
In a news release Tuesday, Sachar called McCallister’s failure to pay taxes that support his own salary an “insult” to the judiciary.
Later, when asked in a phone interview why the judge’s tax debts amounted to misconduct, Sachar noted that judges order people to pay all sorts of fines and court costs as part of their daily job.
“It would be hypocritical to look at a judge who ignores our duty as citizens to file and pay taxes, and then orders people to do similar things,” Sachar said.
McCallister has 30 days to respond to the ethics charges and is entitled to a hearing before the nine-member commission to dispute any of the allegations.
Sachar said he began looking into McCallister’s tax issues after receiving several tips from sources who were aware of testimony given during a public hearing in McCallister’s divorce case in February.
In portions of the transcript from that hearing included in the commission’s release, McCallister’s estranged wife describes finding unopened tax records addressed to the couple that had been stored in the garage.
The judge’s wife told the court at another hearing that she had left the duties of filing the couple’s annual tax returns to McCallister, giving him a manila envelope with her tax returns every year. She said she later found some of the manila envelopes stored in a suitcase.
The Internal Revenue Service is unable to comment on specific cases, said spokesman Cecilia Barreda. Asked why it may have taken nearly a decade for a lien to be be filed, she pointed to an IRS Web page offering general information about federal tax liens.
The Web page states that liens exist when the IRS determines how much someone owes and gives them notice demanding payment.
McCallister was first elected judge in 2008 and won re-election in 2014 unopposed.
As a judge, McCallister started a truancy program in Saline County that made youths who skip school more likely to be subject to court supervision, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette previously reported. He also supported a curfew for minors, the newspaper reported.
It was not immediately clear who paid for McCallister to attend the out-of-state training course for drug court professionals this week. Marty Sullivan, the head of the Administrative Office of the Courts, said McCallister’s travel was not funded through the state agency.
In a 2015 deposition given to attorneys as the judge went through an ongoing divorce from his wife, McCallister said he failed to file the couple’s tax returns for all but two years between 1995 and 2014, when his wife filed for divorce.