A three-judge panel of the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission said it was presented a "compelling" case that Circuit Judge Willard Proctor of Little Rock should be removed from the bench.
In a 21-page decision, it said he should be removed alone for his actions regarding a probationer, Demoreo Davis, who received money from Proctor while in prison, stayed at Proctor's home and enjoyed other privileges.
The recommendation will be reviewed by the nine-member panel and then the state Supreme Court. The panel said it had had found other improprieties worthy of strong punishment, though perhaps not removal. In those instances, the panel said, Proctor should be suspended without pay for three months followed by three months suspension with pay, fined $25,000 to pay the cost of the judicial investigation and stripped forever of criminal and juvenile cases.The panel noted that most of Proctor's ethical violations came in handling a criminal docket. The core issue was a nonprofit organization, Cycle Breakers, that he established and which continues to exist on revenues generated by fines and costs assessed in Proctor's court. (It was his "alter ego," a forensic accountant testified.) But the ethical case went beyond the conflict of interest there and delved into Proctor's sending probationers to jail for nonpayment of fees in proceedings in which they didn't have attorneys and for instituting an illegal "civil probation" program in which he retained jurisdiction (and fining ability) over people who'd completed probation.
Proctor had argued that some of the matters had been considered before and judged noin-violations. His attorney also has argued that he's ended the most objectionable practices and that he was a victim of racial discrimination -- that is, he was being held to a tougher standard than white judges.
The panel's analsys didn't uphold the staff's allegations in every case. It said, for example, that while there was clearly no statute allowing for civil probation it could find no specific prohibition either. It noted the state had not objected to unorthodox procedures in the court. The panel praised Proctor's energy and desire to help others. But it said he'd made suspect decisions, even potentially dangerous ones, such as putting felons in the majority of seats on the board controlling Cycle Breakers, where they could exert influence on fees and spending money and other aspects of probation in Proctor's court.
The panel notes the failure of others to act, in part because, in the case of the county, they were sharing benefits from Proctor's fee generation. Most Cycle Breaker issues were not resisted by the prosecutor, county officials and other county attorneys. CB was even supported by the likes of the school district and City Director Joan Adcock.