Judge is censured for tiff over his reserved parking spot; a cane was thrown

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A judge in Benton County, Arkansas, has received a letter of censure for his angry reaction after finding that someone had parked in his reserved space in the court parking lot.

Judge Brad Karren agreed that his behavior was inappropriate, agreed that his actions violated the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct and accepted the censure, according to the letter of censure. The Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission announced the censure letter in a Jan. 21 press release.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, KARK.com and the Arkansas Times have coverage.

The parking lot tiff received national media attention after Davy Carter, a former Arkansas House of Representatives speaker, tweeted about the April 2021 incident.

At one point during the incident, the censure letter said, Karren threw a cane “as if to clear his hands” and adopted “an aggressive stance.” A video showing the cane throw was posted online, where it has been viewed thousands of times.

Carter said his 20-year-old son, a college student, had parked in Karren’s space after seeing well-marked signs stating that the lot was for Benton County employee parking between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. The student had arrived in the lot at about 7 p.m. to join his parents for dinner.

Carter’s son did not see a sign on the wall of a building that said the space he parked in was reserved for Karren “24/7,” and violators would be towed.

When Carter’s son returned to his car, Karren and his bailiff were standing by the vehicle, the censure letter said. Karren had arrived in the parking lot after he sat as a special judge in a different court that day.

Carter described Karren on Twitter as “a very angry man with a gun on his hip and a cane” who was “berating” his son for parking in his spot.

Carter said his son and his wife repeatedly apologized to the judge, but they were “met with rabid fury and anger.”

The censure letter cited Rule 1.2 of the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct that says judges shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

“The plain language of this rule makes it clear that judges have a duty to conduct themselves with dignity in their personal lives, as well as their official actions on the bench,” the letter said.

“It is not burdensome to expect the judiciary to follow broadly accepted norms of social conduct. This is where you failed.” The case is “about common courtesy and conduct when in a minor confrontation,” the letter stated.

The reprimand noted mitigating circumstances that included a heavy workload and “an extremely difficult past many years.” Karren nearly died when he broke his neck in a bike accident about eight years ago. Two years ago, he had triple bypass surgery following a full cardiac arrest. Nine months ago, he had a hip replacement, which required him to use the cane.

Karren has also had multiple death threats while a judge.

The censure letter said Karren agreed to several remedial measures that included attending a class on mindfulness for judges, continuing to participate in professional counseling, reading a report on bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession, and reiterating his apology to people involved in the incident.

Karren said in a press release he had accepted full responsibility. The press release included comments from five lawyers praising Karren for ruling with fairness and impartiality in the courtroom.

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