by Max Brantley
For the second time, the Arkansas Supreme Court has decided not to go along with a recommendation by the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commision to remove Phillips County Circuit Judge L.T. Simes from the bench for ethical violations. In a previous case, it suspended him. During his suspension, he ran and won re-election. The commission brought another removal action for different violations, but the Supreme Court today instead ordered a reprimand.
This case was referred to the disciplinary panel by the Supreme Court because of allegations that Simes had had improper private communications with a lawyer in a pending case and the judge's subsequent actions against the lawyer who complained. The court concluded, unlike the commission, that Simes had not acted in bad faith — that is, knowingly acting outside his authority. His legal error on handling of the particular hearing was not part of a pattern of such misconduct, the court said, though it did note Simes' long record of ethical miscues on matters outside court. It settled on reprimand as punishment and said it would not rehear the case on petitions from either side.
Justice Karen Baker dissented. She agreed with a finding by the majority that the judicial panel had denied Simes due process in serving notice he was under investigation. But she said she believed Simes had done no wrong in holding a hearing to punish the lawyer who'd asked that he recuse from a case.