Judge accused of bullying behavior and demeaning comments gets suspension
The Arkansas Supreme Court has ordered a judge to be suspended without pay after he was accused of making negative comments to unrepresented defendants about their appearance, background, residency and ethnicity.
The state supreme court ordered Judge Don Bourne of Pope County, Arkansas, to be suspended without pay for 90 days, with 75 days held in abeyance for one year if he satisfies remedial conditions. Bourne is also banned from holding judicial office after his current term expires.
Bourne’s term ends at the end of 2024, according to KARK 4 News, which broadcast an investigative report on Bourne’s courtroom demeanor and his frequent refusal to appoint counsel for defendants.
The Arkansas Supreme Court said Bourne agreed to the ban on future office and the other remedial measures. He did not contest the ethics complaint filed against him.
The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission recommended suspension to the state supreme court for Bourne’s comments to defendants. The commission imposed a censure for his handling of indigency affidavits.
One count of the complaint alleged that Bourne made demeaning comments toward Spanish-speaking defendants and negative comments to defendants who are not from Pope County, Arkansas, according to the commission.
The commission said Bourne was accused of making negative comments about defendants’ hairstyles, advising Spanish-speaking defendants to learn English and telling one defendant to, “Go get a job, and get that crap out of your eyebrows.”
He also was accused of telling defendants who weren’t from Pope County, Arkansas, that he wished that they would have stayed where they came from.
“I get a lot of troublemakers from California,” he allegedly told one defendant.
People who filed complaints with the commission also made general allegations about Bourne’s “bullying, angry demeanor and impolite behavior,” the commission said. Some people who complained about Bourne being verbally abusive were not even the subjects “of the injudicious behavior,” the commission said.
Bourne was accused in a second count of failing to make proper indigency determinations for appointing counsel and failing to retain official records. The commission said Bourne rarely approved affidavits of indigency, and those affidavits weren’t kept as a public record.
Many cases in which Bourne denied a public defender were for defendants in his court for a first appearance. A second judge could determine indigency when the case reached the circuit court, the commission pointed out.
In misdemeanor cases before Bourne in which jail time was a possibility, Bourne often discouraged defendants from seeking appointed counsel. Instead of conducting a proper review, he would often say, “I am not going to appoint a lawyer for you. Get a job,” the commission said.
Conditions imposed on Bourne require training on judicial ethics, bullying and harassment; require him to spend his suspension observing other district court judges and writing “reflective reports” on each visit; require him to keep audio recordings of court proceedings; and require him to allow monitoring of his courtroom.
Bourne told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he couldn’t comment on details of his agreement with the commission.