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Smart talk, Sept. 25

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Judge talks turkey

 

Confronted by a person of authority — a traffic cop, say — many among us have thought to ourselves “Give me the ticket or give me the lecture. Don't give me both.” In Pulaski Circuit Court recently, Robert Joseph “Roberto” Maldonado II got both.

Judge Barry Sims sentenced Maldonado to 80 years in prison for writing hot checks and for other offenses, and in the process the judge called Maldonado a liar, a cheat and a thief. We wondered if this was unusually strong language for a judge to direct at a defendant.

Apparently it is, although judges we called wouldn't say anything about the case publicly. Judges, like doctors, look out for their colleagues. Sims himself declined comment on the ground that aspects of the case are still pending before him.

The Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct doesn't list names that are permissible or impermissible for a judge to call a defendant. But it does say: “A judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity, and shall require similar conduct of lawyers, and of staff, court officials and others subject to the judge's direction and control.”

There's a limit on what judges can say, according to David Stewart, executive director of the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission. In at least one case, a judge received a letter of admonition from the Commission for name-calling. But, “We usually wouldn't open a file unless we had a complaint from a witness,” Stewart said. And, he added, if the judge has truth as a defense — if an alleged liar is in fact a liar — “We usually don't waste too much time on it.”

 

The good, the bad, the Helena

 

Helena-West Helena gets a visit from ABC's Good Morning America Thursday, Sept. 25, part of the program's visit to 50 states in 50 days. A Helena Daily World account said that high school football (a victory over Pulaski Academy), blues music, the dog-freeing Mayor James Valley and the Edwardian Inn might be among the scenery and subjects, given the advance filming. A Little Rock couple split on the presidential election also was interviewed in Helena.

It's expected generally to be a welcome dose of friendly coverage for a city that has had its difficulties lately – remember the mayor's declaration of martial law in a crime-ridden neighborhood not along ago in addition to his release of dog pound animals?

We also wonder if ABC saw the recent six-part series in the Columbia Journalism Review on the views of candidates' health care plans among people who live in the needy Mississippi River Delta. Helena-West Helena was a stop in this reporting, too. Former state Sen. Kevin Smith recounted in that report how his inadequate group health plan left him in debt to providers for medical treatment. He'd like a single-payer system. Us, too.

 

The color of discipline

 

The Pulaski County School District was called down in a recent report by the federal court's Office of Desegregation Monitoring, a blow to the district's effort to extricate itself from desegregation litigation.

For one thing, the new elementary school in Chenal Valley is 67 percent white, though the district had committed to try to achieve a 50-50 racial mix. But the district even expanded the attendance zone to take in still more white families last January.

More striking was the district's continuing disproportionate punishment of black students. Suspensions have increased over the last seven years, particularly for black males, to the point that nearly one in every two black male secondary students was suspended at least once last school year, twice the suspension rate of white males. The district is 44 percent black.

Roughly three of every four students (70 percent or more) suspended last year from these schools were black: Clinton Magnet, College Station, Harris, Pinewood, Sylvan Hills and Taylor elementary; both Jacksonville middle schools, and the Jacksonville and Mills High School.

The district was cited for lacking a comprehensive plan for addressing discipline problems.

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