Cir­cuit judge faces ethics ac­cu­sa­tions, charges of tax eva­sion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN MORITZ

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.

McCal­lis­ter

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