Kudos to City Director Doris Wright. She's raised an important question arising from the ethics investigation of Circuit Judge Willard Proctor. The state judicial discipline agency has released a stunning list of allegations. The worst is that he's repeatedly jailed people in an unauthorized and unprecedent "civil probation" program for failure to pay fees to an agency he started and apparently controls.
The state investigation reported that, on one typical day, 15 of 88 people in the county jail were there by Proctor's order.
Wright has asked city officials for an explanation. Why? Because Little Rock criminal suspects are often turned away from the jail, or sent to a jail in Conway at city expense for lack of space. "I want to know if we can recoup our money," Wright says.
"It's very frustrating," Wright told me. "Those are 15 burglars we could have put in jail." She said she's been unhappy to read about the demand Proctor has put on the jail, particularly when they are not criminal defendants. In many cases, the state investigation said, they were people with expunged records and thus officially guilty of no crimes at all.
Wright said Little Rock is often criticized for failing to act effectively on the crime problem. But, "when you peel back the layers," she said, "you find one or two more layers."
Wright raised the question at two different city board meetings recently and she said an answer is promised from the city manager's office. Meanwhile, she's at least pressing one of the key concerns about Proctor's activities. Others seem less willing to act. The state Supreme Court continues to keep secret a lawsuit with more details about the judge's activities. County government has made no effort to put a stop to Proctor's operation. The Quorum Court has even given him more money recently despite a checkered fiscal record. Defense lawyers, who know their clients can pay money to Proctor's program to stay out of jail, aren't likely to complain. The prosecuting attorney, who must prosecute people in Proctor's court, is in a ticklish situation on objecting to his unorthodox procedures, not to mention in the dark when he conducts one of his "civil probation" meetings without attorneys present.