LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court said Thursday that it will reassign the cases of an Arkansas judge facing allegations of administrative misconduct including having sexual relationships with defendants.
Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Howard Brill signed an order saying he would appoint a special judge or judges to oversee the docket for the Cross County District Court in Wynne, Cherry Valley and Parkin to maintain the integrity of the court while the allegations of judicial conduct are investigated. The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission filed civil administrative charges against District Court Judge Joe Boeckmann Tuesday.
"To protect the integrity of the judicial system and to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice, I find it necessary to appoint by separate order, a special judge, or judges," Brill wrote, adding that the order is not a determination of guilt in any pending charges.
The court will issue a separate order later stating which judge or judges will handle Boeckmann's cases.
Attorney Jeff Rosenzweig, who is representing Boeckmann, said the chief justice's order Thursday wasn't a surprise.
Boeckmann "had already agreed with the Judicial Discipline (and Disability Commission) not to preside over cases for the time being, so this just enacts what he has already agreed to do," Rosenzweig said.
He has said that Boeckmann plans to fight the charges, which include allegations that Boeckmann reduced bond or fines for young, white male defendants and engaged in sexual conduct with some of them.
Boeckmann is accused of issuing harsher sentences to women and minority defendants that came through his courtroom. He's also accused of reducing fines or court fees for some male defendants in exchange for spanking them or for photographing them while naked or while bending over.
The complaint alleges the judge entered into a long-term relationship with at least one defendant, letting him live in a room in his house, buying him cars and giving him access to a boat. It also alleges he failed to recuse himself and gave special treatment to the sister of a man he dated.
Separate from the civil administrator charges, a special prosecutor has been appointed to oversee any possible criminal charges against Boeckmann, but a gag order was placed on the investigation so no further details were released.