by Max Brantley
The local side of the Northwest Arkansas newspaper combine followed up today on our reporting earlier about then-Judge Mary Ann Gunn's anger at a drug court defendant for refusing to appear on television. It was one more indication that Gunn was using her court to lay the groundwork for a commercial TV enterprise and a solid piece of circumstantial evidence that a judicial ethics advisory panel was right when it said there was too great a potential for coercion in Gunn's televised drug court. The Arkansas Supreme Court has since outlawed cameras in drug court.
Gunn apologizes in the article for losing her temper, but blames it on a difficult defendant. She blames the current legal action seeking to seal drug court records on the lawyer, W.H. Taylor , not the plaintiffs who'd prefer that their time in court be confidential matters rather than spread before a national audience. She contends drug court video is in the public domain, since it was posted on YouTube. But it would be a simple matter for the maker, Jones TV, to assert a copyright claim and not allow its use on YouTube. Jones TV is awaiting court guidance on the issue.
I was quoted:
The transcript of the Watkins hearing was first posted online Aug. 18 by Max Brantley, online editor of the Arkansas Times in Little Rock and a vocal critic of Gunn’s televised hearings, as well as her upcoming show “Last Shot with Judge Gunn.”
“I’ve yet to see any demonstration that putting drug abusers on TV is a sound therapeutic practice,” said Brantley, who claims Gunn refuses to return his calls.
Gunn singled out Brantley, as well as Fayetteville attorney W.H. Taylor and Circuit Judge William Storey as a small group rushing to criticize her show without seeing it.
It is no "claim," but fact, that Gunn won't talk to me. If she would talk to me, I'd ask, though the reporter apparently didn't, about reports of paper drug court records removed from the courthouse by Gunn after she left the bench. The records were returned after another judge complained. I'm told they're now in a locked room in the Washington County courthouse. Further reporting is needed on whether a "civilian" walked away with personal medical records that might enjoy privacy protection.
Gunn's syndicated show, featuring her special style in rehabbing of patients of a compliant local social service agency (shame on them), is scheduled to begin in late September. She'll pretend she's a judge, using rented space in the public's courthouse as a stage.