LITTLE ROCK – A state judicial panel will open an inquiry into a Pope County judge following a Working 4 You investigation looking at how few times public defenders had been used in his court.
In a letter to KARK 4 News, Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission Executive Director David J. Sachar said that the complaint process against District Judge Don Bourne will start Monday.
Sachar said a JDDC Investigation Panel will conduct a “thorough and confidential investigation” into the details of Bourne’s story.
He noted that Bourne has due process rights under the procedural rules of the commission and that investigative details are kept private under Supreme Court Rules.
The JDDC investigation will not include issues that arise from a judge’s independent decision, they look at patterns, and if there are any judicial conduct violations.
Shortly before the announcement of the investigation, the Arkansas Attorney General released a statement on the matter, showing support for an investigation and calling the right of legal representation a “cornerstone of our justice system.”
“The right to legal representation is the cornerstone of our justice system. The Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, the appropriate investigating authority, should look into this matter.”Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge
The Working 4 You investigation by Mitch McCoy revealed that, according to state records, the public defender was used only 48 times in Bourne’s court in nine years, even though other Arkansas counties of similar population to Pope County used public defenders thousands of times in the same time frame.
In a statement to KARK 4 News before the report’s airing, Bourne said he always tries to make the right decision on allowing a public defender based on information submitted by defendants. Bourne said approximately 95% of people in his court plead guilty.
“When a request for a public defender is made and the affidavit showing assets is submitted, I make a decision. I always try to make the right decision based on the information submitted,” he wrote. “If a person is employed and can afford an attorney, I do not appoint the public defender.”
Attempts to reach Bourne for comment regarding the state’s decision to begin an investigation were unsuccessful as of 4 p.m. Friday.