SEN. JASON RAPERT: His conversation with Supreme Court justice subject of disciplinary agency review.
, executive director of the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission
, confirms our report yesterday
that a complaint has been filed regarding a conversation between Supreme Court Justice Cliff Hoofman
and Sen. Jason Rapert.
We'd been told that Rapert talked to more than one justice or rising justice on the subject of the pending same-sex marriage case
appeal. Rapert,who has threatened political retaliation against judges who overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage, said he could recall a conversation with only Hoofman. But Rapert said Hoofman called him to discuss an unrelated legislative matter and the marriage case came up only in passing. It was around the time of Circuit Judge Chris Piazza's May decision in the case. Hoofman recused from the marriage case two weeks ago.
Sachar issued this prepared statement:
"The JDDC is aware of the allegations that were reported in the Arkansas Times on Monday involving Supreme Court Justice Cliff Hoofman. Under Rule 7C(3) I can confirm that we have an open investigation. The justice will receive notice and has full due process rights during litigation of this matter. Procedural rules of the JDDC will determine the timing of the events in the case including when more public information is available. The investigation is confidential while it is being considered by an Investigation Panel of the JDDC. Public information will be available upon dismissal, agreed resolution or public charges."
Hoofman has not responded to phone and e-mail messages. I also sought a comment from Court of Appeals Judge Rhonda Wood
, who'll take Hoofman's seat in January. She, too, is a resident of Rapert's district.Rapert said he couldn't recall if he'd talked to Wood, but said he was sure she was well aware of his opposition to the ruling. It's uncertain if the Supreme Court will get to the marriage case this year or next year, when Wood moves to the court. It is in the briefing process, with completion due in roughly November, but extensions could be granted.
Rapert's approval would customarily be sought by the governor if Hoofman were to be appointed to another court seat by Gov. Mike Beebe
. Hoofman has asked colleagues for recommendations to Beebe to appoint him to the Court of Appeals seat Wood is vacating. He served earlier on the Court of Appeals by Beebe appointment, as well as to Beebe-appointed slots on the Supreme Court and Highway Commission.
Rapert sponsored a Legislative Council resolution criticizing Piazza's ruling and raising the possibility of legislative action — a judicial recall procedure, for example — against judges who go against the "will of the people." Rapert took the extraordinary step of having a copy of the resolution hand-delivered to the Supreme Court.
Any person is free to talk to a sitting judge. The commission review is of judges, not Rapert. Judges are bound by ethical rules not to talk about matters before them except in formal judicial settings. Hoofman's discussion of the FOI law — the subject Rapert said he called about — could be problematic in itself if it pertained to questions of judicial interpretation and existing statutory law.
Sachar need not confirm, because we have a copy, another complaint filed with his agency by Kathy Wells of Little Rock. It asks whether ethical rules were violated when a couple of members of the Supreme Court (Karen Baker and Courtney Goodson) reportedly pushed for lie detector tests of employees in hunt for leakers of information to the Arkansas Times.
That idea — as well as an idea to require non-disclsoure pledges of future court employees — reportedly was quashed by other justices.