by Max Brantley
Gov. Mike Beebe today announced appointments to one vacant and three soon-to-be vacant circuit judgeships.
As I mentioned yesterday, Beth Burgess of Perryville will get the appointment to serve until a successor is elected for the late Melinda Gilbert, who served in a juvenile court division slot for Pulaski and Perry counties. Burgess is the first Perry County resident in memory to take a judicial seat in the circuit. She's the daughter of Democratic stalwart Herby Branscum.
Also of interest is the governor's appointment of Chadd Mason of Fayetteville. He'll succeed Judge Mary Ann Gunn of Fayetteville, who has resigned from the bench effective June 11 to pursue production of a reality TV show in which she'll play a judge trying to rehab drug offenders. Her own televised court became controversial when a judical ethics panel raised questions about it. Multiple questions remain on use of public agencies and facilities for her planned reality show. Mason's appointment had been expected and I had asked the governor's office in advance about the rumor because Mason represented Gunn in her divorce and critics of the drug TV idea wondered if Mason would arrive in the office prepared to facilitate Gunn's TV show with a supply of "actors" from drug cases. Matt DeCample, the governor's spokesman, said those concerns had been expressed to the governor and he'd asked Mason about them before making the appointment. He wouldn't divulge the details of the conversation. I'm trying to reach Mason. UPDATE: He sent a short release praising Gunn for her "ethic and vision" and said her shoes "will not be filled." He didn't respond to my written questions relative to participation in a TV drug court or what he and Beebe discussed.
Beebe also named:
* Jon Comstock of Rogers to replace Judge David Clinger when he retires June 30.
* Mark Fryauf of Rogers to replace Judge Jay Finch when he retires July 8.
None of the appointees can run in the elections to fill these judgeships permanently in 2012.
The latest buzz from Fayetteville on Drug TV with Mary Ann is that the Washington County courthouse will be used; employees from the prosecutor and elsewhere will get after-hours roles as actors; the TV show will be styled as a drug treatment program that would qualify for referrals from the Department of Community Correction. I've seen no evidence yet that TV makes for better rehab. The entanglement of various public employees and agencies in a commercial TV production inevitably will raise questions about equal treatment and undue influence related to people in the justice system for drug offenses.
FOR EXAMPLE: A note from someone close to the situation:
Most of us here have huge problems with the way this thing is being put together. Civil cases in Judge Judy's court are one thing. Criminal cases involving an individual's liberty and Constitutional rights are quite another. Attorneys take an oath to defend the Constitution. What happens when a producer wants to create some drama? Does the attorney playing an attorney have the same ethical obligations as they do in real life? Wait a minute. This IS real life for defendants.