Judge-elect: slow learner
Our Insider column last week reported that Little Rock District Court Judge-elect Mark Leverett had asked for an official opinion on whether he could hold onto a part-time job as a public defender in Sherwood after he takes office in Little Rock Jan. 1. Little Rock city officials weren't warm to the idea because Leverett's pay and benefits cost the city more than $165,000 a year – full-time pay to most Arkies. The city thinks the court is a full-time job.
Last week, the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee told Leverett that district judges may not serve as a prosecutor or criminal defense lawyer in the county in which they sit. It also counseled the judge that judicial duties are paramount, though there are narrow exceptions that allow certain unrelated business activities by judges. Leverett doesn't speak with the Times because we've reported, among others, that he'd made improper political contributions as a judicial candidate and that he'd fought Freedom of Information requests to the troubled Cycle Breakers probation program. But he told the Democrat-Gazette that he intended to give up the moonlighting. According to the D-G article, Leverett said he'd give up the work when his current clients' cases are resolved, probably by mid-January. The judge either hasn't fully read the opinion or perhaps thinks he's crafted a loophole. It does not say a judge may continue in private practice to resolve pending cases or for any other reason. The big bucks are to be a judge, not a public defender.
A kid's life – getting worse
Despite Gov. Mike Beebe's announced intention to improve the state's services to children and families, a watchdog organization says things are getting worse, not better.
A report issued by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families last week said that children at risk of abuse and neglect were waiting longer for services from the Arkansas Department of Children and Family Services. Relying on figures from the state budget year that ended June 30, the report noted that the percentage of investigations of abuse undertaken within 72 hours dropped from 81 to 65 percent, with a goal of 95 percent. Welfare workers managed to get on a monthly basis to only about half of the homes where children at risk remained, against a goal of 80 percent. Timely assessment of child safety and home situations began only 43 percent of the time.
The state says it has made personnel changes since these numbers were compiled and is working on improvements of the system.
Slow train through Arkansas
The historic role of Arkansas as a butt of sophisticates' jokes shows no sign of abating. Last week, The New York Times carried a feature article about possible new interior design at the White House in the Barack Obama era. Bill Clinton, the Arkansas president, naturally was mentioned. The writer used the opportunity for a slur on the whole state.
Quoting from Penelope Green's article: “The Kennedy White House was too French; the Clintons', too Arkansas. In recent history, only the Waspy Bushes (both 41 and 43) have escaped decorating derision.”