Corruption and cooperation in Arkansas:  Top judicial ethics and discipline stories of 2016

By the time a federal grand jury indicted Joseph Boeckmann in October, he had been off the bench for almost a year and out of office for over 6 months as a result of proceedings by the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.

In a statement of allegations filed in November 2015, the Commission had alleged that, in addition to other misconduct, Boeckmann had used his judicial status and influence “to insinuate compliance” from young Caucasian male litigants with “his personal and sexual desires.”  (Boeckmann agreed not to sit while the allegations were pending, and the Arkansas Supreme Court appointed a judge to handle his docket.)  According to the statement, Boeckmann offered certain defendants in traffic or criminal citation cases community service or “substitutionary sentences;” he would instruct the men to pick up cans along roads or at his home and photograph them as they were bending over, keeping “these photographs of male litigants’ buttocks in his home for his own personal use.”  In addition, the statement alleged that, when some of the defendants went to his home or office as directed to perform community service, he solicited sexual relations with them in exchange for reductions of or dismissals of their court fines and costs.  In his answer, the judge denied the allegations.

More victims came forward after the Commission’s allegations were reported in the news media, and the Commission added more examples of the judge appearing “to act as employer, financer, and, on occasion, intimate partner of some defendants appearing before him” in an amended statement filed in January 2016.  Some of the allegations related to payments by Boeckmann to defendants who appeared before him and telephone communications by him to witnesses during the Commission investigation.  Boeckmann also denied the allegations in the amended statement.

In early May, the Commission notified Boeckmann’s attorney that it might file a second amended statement of allegations based on additional evidence, including thousands of photographs and additional witnesses who had provided statements regarding sexual misconduct by Boeckmann when he was a private attorney and a deputy prosecuting attorney.  On May 9, the Commission announced Boeckmann’s resignation and permanent removal and concluded its case against him.  In its press release, the Commission thanked several state agencies that had assisted in its investigation, including the cyber-crimes unit of the Arkansas Attorney General and the state police.

In its October press release announcing the indictment of Boeckmann, the U.S. Department of Justice noted that the Commission and the state police had assisted the FBI in its investigation.  The indictment charges that Boeckmann used his official position “to obtain personal services, sexual contact, and the opportunity to view and to photograph in compromising positions persons who appeared before him in traffic and misdemeanor criminal cases in exchange for dismissing the cases.”  The indictment is based on the testimony of 9 men who were 16 to 22 at the time they appeared before Boeckmann from 2009 to 2015.  There are 8 counts of wire fraud, 2 counts of witness tampering, 1 count of federal program bribery, and 10 counts of violating the Travel Act.

In its “Best and Worst of 2016” issue, the Arkansas Times named Boeckmann as “Best disgraced” and named Commission Deputy Executive Director Emily White as “Best hero” for her “dogged, months-long investigation into the Boeckmann case [that] put an end to what Boeckmann’s alleged victims say was decades of the powerful former judge and prosecutor preying on vulnerable victims.”

At the request of the Commission, the Arkansas Governor proclaimed December 9, 2016 Arkansas Anti-Corruption Day.  In a press release, the Commission explained that it had requested the proclamation “to remind our citizens that they have watchdog agencies they can turn to and that each one of us can play a role in making sure that our state and local government is free from corruption.”

 The Commission thanked other agencies again on the first day of business in 2017 when it announced the removal of Judge Timothy Parker based on his resignation on the last day of 2016.  The press release cited the county sheriff, the police chief, the state attorney general for the cyber-crimes unit, the prosecutor coordinator’s office, the special prosecuting attorney, and many court staff, public officials, legal professionals, and witnesses.  The judge admitted allegations that he performed probable cause determinations in cases involving friends or former clients and released them on their own recognizance.  However, the judge contested other allegations on which he would have faced disciplinary charges if his resignation had not rendered them moot.  The other allegations included that he set bond for women or their family members or friends in exchange for sexual favors and traded cash and prescription pills for sexual favors or money.

3 thoughts on “Corruption and cooperation in Arkansas:  Top judicial ethics and discipline stories of 2016

  1. Pingback: Inappropriate e-mails in Pennsylvania:  Top judicial ethics and discipline stories of 2016 | Judicial ethics and discipline

  2. Pingback: State judicial discipline sanctions:  Top judicial ethics and discipline stories of 2016 | Judicial ethics and discipline

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