(Guest post by Cory Allen Cox)
In a different life, I served as legal counsel for Governor Mike Huckabee. It was my first job and one that many attorneys might have considered an excellent capstone to their career. It was an extraordinary experience, one that required me to learn how to dodge political mines as well as navigate the legal waters. Many times we were between Scylla and Charybdis and all we could hope to do was stay afloat.
I didn’t always make the best decisions and a few times it got me in the paper, something that I didn’t enjoy. We took on water, but we stayed afloat.
Judge Willard Proctor faces a similar challenge of navigating treacherous legal and political waters, and he needs a life-line. The judge, a man most people would say has a big heart, created a program called “Cycle Breakers.” The program has decidedly religious overtones and operated, in part, on money that probationers paid into the program.
Because of problems in the way the program operated, the staff of the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDC) has recommended that Judge Proctor be removed from the bench. It remains to be seen what the JDDC does.
Among many of the problems the staff found were that the judge allowed probationers to work on his home in lieu of payments to the program; that he sent money to a prisoner that he sentenced; that he invited probationers to his home; and that all persons he put on probation were default participants in Cycle Breakers regardless of their desire to participate. He also put criminal probationers who had completed their term of probation on a “civil probation,” a creation of Judge Proctor’s for which there was no legal authority.
Probationers were often brought before the judge without the benefit of their attorney, some being placed in jail. Most troubling, the judge allowed one probationer to live with him in his home.
I don’t want to get in to the veracity of the allegations against the judge. As an attorney, I took an oath to uphold the honor of the courts and these are just allegations and a recommendation.
But I do want to talk about the appearance of what has happened, regardless of the facts. The judge has taken the same oath to uphold the honor and integrity of the court that I did. Whether or not he navigated the legal waters, he has been struck by a political mine.
The position of judge is one of the most sacred of offices created by our system of government. Out of all branches, it is the one that revokes the constitutional rights of citizens on a continual basis. It is an office in which the public must trust, even if they disagree with pronouncements that the courts make from time to time.
During my tenure at the governor’s office, we promoted a concept known as “restorative justice” that imposed unique sanctions on those convicted in criminal courts. There was also a faith-based component to some of the restorative justice programs we considered. That component could not be constitutionally imposed upon an offender, but had to be something in which they chose to participate on their own.
We were very careful in implementing the programs, being certain not to force them on anyone. For one, it was impossible for the governor to impose these programs on the courts and prosecutors. But he could have brought pressure to bear on the Arkansas Department of Correction to implement programs. But even with the Department of Corrections, Huckabee was reserved, believing that these programs would only work if the people involved believed that they worked.
It does no good to force values and beliefs on someone. If you force-feed faith, the proselyte rebels against your desires, lying about their belief to placate you. You cannot force a person to believe. You can’t make believers, you only make enemies and harm the reputation of the church.
If what the JDDC staff report is true, then Judge Proctor ended up being his worst enemy. Not only did he get himself in trouble and possibly lose his office, he may have harmed the future of creative faith-based justice programs in the courts, and he may have made his probationers hostile to the cause of Christ. I certainly pray that is not the case.
Just as importantly, if what the report is true, then Judge Proctor harmed the reputation of the courts and violated the constitutional rights of those whom he was charged to protect. His case is a perfect example of why judges must not be activist. If a judge has an agenda, neutrality and justice are sacrificed. Even if he keeps his office, there will be those who always view him with suspicion.
Cory Allen Cox is an attorney practicing law in Little Rock. He was previously legal counsel for Gov. Mike Huckabee and director of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Arkansas Insurance Department. He was choosen as one of Arkansas Business’ Forty Under Forty in 2008. His legal practice focuses on insurance defense, government regulation and commercial transactions.