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.

Top judicial ethics and discipline stories of 2016

This post begins a series on the top judicial ethics and discipline stories of 2016, following up on a preliminary list published mid-year

One of the top stories, already described in the mid-year list, was the U.S. Supreme Court decision on disqualification of a state supreme court justice who had served as district attorney in a death penalty case and then participated in a review of a post-conviction decision years later.  Click here for a previous post on the case.

The top stories series will include up-dates on other stories identified in the mid-year list such as the resignation of an Arkansas judge charged with sexual misconduct, the Pennsylvania e-mail scandal, and federal court decisions about restrictions on judicial campaign conduct.  A high profile case was resolved several weeks ago when the California Commission on Judicial Performance closed its investigation of a judge for the sentence he gave a student athlete in a sexual assault case that prompted thousands of complaints.  Click here for the recent post on that case.  High profile stories that developed in the second half of 2016 and will be discussed in subsequent posts include the Kentucky judge who criticized the district attorney on Facebook and elsewhere and the Georgia constitutional amendment eliminating the Judicial Qualifications Commission in its current form and delegating the formation of a new Commission to the state legislature.  There will also be a post on “what they said that got them in trouble” in the second half of 2016, up-dating a previous post for the first half of the year.  The last post in the series will be a count of the public judicial discipline cases in 2016.

One of the continuing “hot button” topics in judicial ethics and discipline is same-sex marriage.  There are 3 cases still pending on that issue at the end of the year:

  • The Wyoming Supreme Court heard oral argument in April on a recommendation by the Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics that a judge be removed from office for stating that she is unwilling to perform same-sex marriages.
  • The Oregon Supreme Court will hear oral argument in June on the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability that a judge be removed from office on numerous grounds including that he instructed his staff to lie to same-sex couples and say he was not available to perform their wedding ceremonies. One of the other grounds is that the judge had unsolicited, often unwanted, personal, and completely inappropriate out-of-court contacts with a former Navy SEAL under supervision in the judge’s veterans court because the judge was “enamored with” his notoriety and military accomplishments, and the judge facilitated the handling of a firearm by the former Navy SEAL, who was a convicted felon.  State criminal charges have now also been filed against the judge for the firearms offense.  The other grounds for the removal recommendation in the judicial discipline case include:  (1) at 2 community college soccer games for his son’s team, the judge tried to intimidate a referee by, for example, brandishing his judicial business card while threatening to complain to the referee’s employer; (2) either directly or under the guise of a non-profit organization, the judge obtained funds for a “Hall of Heroes” (military art hung in his courtroom and in the surrounding public areas) in part by soliciting financial support from attorneys who appeared before him and collecting the money, often in the courthouse and once during a status conference in his chambers; (3) the judge made public statements to create the impression that the Commission proceeding was solely regarding his refusal to conduct same-sex marriages to deflect attention away from his other misconduct; and (4) the judge engaged in a pattern of untruthfulness during the Commission proceedings.
  • Chief Justice Roy Moore has filed a notice of appeal from the decision of the Court of the Judiciary that he be suspended without pay until the end of his term for directing or appearing to direct all Alabama probate judges to follow Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban in complete disregard of a federal court injunction. Click here for a previous post.  The other members of the Court recused themselves from the appeal, and a panel of 7 retired district or circuit court judges chosen at random will sit as a substitute Alabama Supreme Court.