VOL. 124 | NO. 219 | Friday, November 6, 2009
Ark. Supreme Court Suspends Circuit Judge
ANDREW DeMILLO | Associated Press Writer
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Supreme Court suspended a judge on Thursday until the end of his term next year, ruling that he kept practicing law while serving as a circuit judge.
Justices suspended Phillips County Circuit Judge L.T. Simes without pay until Dec. 31, 2010. The court said, however, that Simes could seek office again – rejecting a recommendation from the state panel that disciplines judges.
The panel said Simes continued to make money as a lawyer after his election to the bench in 1997. It had recommended that he be permanently barred from serving as a judge.
The court said Simes could not practice law during his suspension.
"Judge Simes, of course, can resign and vacate his judgeship at any time, which would allow him to practice law," Justice Robert L. Brown wrote in the majority opinion.
Simes said he had been fired from acting as administrator of an estate, but records show he billed for work on the case after he became a judge in 1997.
The commission cited Simes' explanation that he did not make any effort to return the money because he believed that would have been considered practicing law. He also told the commission, according to a report issued in March, that he "would have done it differently if I knew you were watching."
The court ruled that the case didn't show a "pattern of misconduct," and noted that the violation didn't occur in his courtroom.
Justices split several ways, with some objecting to the finding and others only to the punishment.
Chief Justice Jim Hannah noted that Simes had been sanctioned for other judicial conduct violations in the past, and called the suspension "inadequate." Simes has been sanctioned three times before by the commission, and has been the subject of 24 complaints since 2004.
"The judiciary cannot function without the trust and confidence of the people," Hannah wrote in a separate opinion. "Judge Simes's misconduct seriously undermines the integrity of and respect for the judiciary. This results in the people losing trust and confidence in the judiciary."
Justice Paul Danielson, in a separate opinion, said he agreed with the ruling but said a 90-day suspension would have been more fair.
"For all intents and purposes, (the court) has removed him, which I believe to be extremely harsh," Danielson wrote. "Such a sanction, in my opinion, should be reserved for intentional conduct that is harmful to the integrity of the judiciary, not negligent lapses in judgment."
David Stewart, the commission's executive director, said the judge still faces three complaints that will continue before the panel since he wasn't removed from the bench.
George Hairston, an attorney representing Simes, said he didn't know if the judge planned to seek re-election next year.
"We'll analyze it and of course take whatever action necessary to vindicate Judge Simes," Hairston said.
Still pending before the court is the commission's recommendation that Pulaski County Circuit Judge Willard Proctor be removed from office for having too close of a relationship with some defendants who were on probation.
The only judge stripped of his robes by the state's highest court so far has been Pulaski County Circuit Judge Morris Thompson, after justices ruled that Thompson wrote invalid checks, failed to pay his federal income taxes and engaged in other misconduct.
Proctor defeated Thompson for the judgeship in 2000 while Thompson was contesting the high court's decision to remove him from office.
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