Pulaski County circuit judges today failed to approve a proposal to immediately change the plan for assigning cases among the 17 judges to strip further assignment of criminal cases to Judge Willard Proctor.
Proctor faces removal from the bench in a disciplinary proceeding for unethical practices in his probation program, which he created to provide a revenue stream for a nonprofit organization he founded. Improper relationships with probationers are part of the case against him, along with numerous financial issues. The judges have already approved a case assignment plan for next year (subject to Supreme Court approval) that strips Proctor of new criminal cases. But, on account of his disciplinary troubles, Circuit Judge Herb Wright had proposed that the judges ask the Supreme Court for immediate implementation of next year's plan.
Proctor easily prevailed in today's vote. Only Judges Barry Sims, Tim Fox, Herb Wright, Mackie Pierce and Dick Moore voted for the motion, which required nine votes of the 17 circuit judges to pass. Since the "yeas" fell short, there was no call for "nay" votes among those present, but Chief Judge Vann Smith read four "nay" votes that had been sent before the meeting by e-mail.
Defending the motion,Wright said he did not see restructuring Proctor's case load as a punishment. He also said that one probationer who was transferred from his court to Proctor's was being made to appear before the judge even though his probation had expired, "outside of what I would consider lawful authority," Wright said. Proctor said this was the first he had heard about the situation. It's this very practice that is among those that has Proctor in hot water.
Several judges indicated that the change in assignments should not be made while Proctor's disciplinary case is pending and before the case assignment plan for next year had been approved by the Supreme Court. Judge Wiley Branton said he was "concerned about the precedent we would be setting here," and that this was a "dangerous road for us to embark upon."
-- Gerard Matthews
Some thoughts on this case that were posted earlier today, before the meeting:
Two things: 1) Since the disciplinary case is still pending, it's probably premature for immediate action on case assignments absent a reason other than the preliminary recommendation by an advisory panel that Proctor should be removed from the bench. 2) In his argument against that action, however, Proctor demonstrated another reason why he's unsuitable for the bench. In a prepared argument, Proctor touted his court's work and noted that it has generated more than $2 million for the county in excess of operating costs.
Courts aren't established to be revenue engines (at least in theory, a theory sorely tested by district courts). They are established to dispense justice. Proctor has created a bloated empire with his probation fee generation scheme, which is just one of the reasons it needs to be dismantled. The county has been unwilling to rein him in because of the addictive easy money. It's just wrong. Whatever else should be considered in allowing Proctor to continue to hear criminal cases, his revenue production should not be one of them.