Judge is suspended for rude treatment of public defenders; he will also have to hire a counselor or life coach

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The Arkansas Supreme Court has suspended a judge and ordered him to hire a counselor or a life coach for rude and intimidating treatment of public defenders in the courtroom.

Judge Barry Sims, a circuit judge in Pulaski County, Arkansas, will be suspended without pay for 30 days, while an additional 60-day suspension will be lifted if he takes remedial measures, the Legal Profession Blog reports.

The court’s June 3 decision is here.

One requirement is for Sims to take a class on mindfulness, patience or civility with a judicial training organization. Another is for Sims to hire a counselor or a life coach “to help consult with him about how he treats professionals appearing in his court.”

Sims had not contested the sanction.

The Arkansas Times, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Fox 16 and KATV covered the suspension recommendation when it was issued May 21 by the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission.

According to undisputed facts cited by the commission:

• In April 2019, Sims was “impatient, discourteous and rude to a public defender” during a hearing on a no-knock search warrant. At one point, Sims left the bench while the public defender was questioning a witness. When the public defender was responding to an objection, Sims would not let her make her record. His “tone of voice was curt,” and his “facial expressions, demeanor and actions alarmed other attorneys and members of the gallery.” There is no evidence, however, that Sims’ ultimate decision in the case was unfair.

• In May 2019 during voir dire in a criminal trial, Sims called the lawyers to the bench and made statements about the way that the public defender was conducting voir dire. He asked the public defender whether her client had a defense and whether she would accept a guilty plea. The case ended in an acquittal. Sims’ comments and demeanor were inappropriate and gave the appearance of an attempt to coerce a settlement.

• During an October 2019 hearing, Sims asked a public defender in open court whether she was going to file another judicial complaint against him. Sims’ “words, tone and demeanor were intimidating and improper.” The public defender had not filed a complaint. But the inquiry caused others to think Sims was going to retaliate for actual and potential complaints.

“Bullying is a harsh word, but everyone knows what it means,” said David Sachar, executive director of the judicial discipline commission, in an interview with Fox 16. “You’re not going to be called a bully for one incident. It’s a pattern. And in this case, the judge continued to treat people in such a way that it resulted in multiple complaints and this sanction.”

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