LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas attorney says there might be hope for the dozens and dozens of people who believe they have been wronged in district courts in Pope County.
“If the right to legal counsel is violated, due process is violated,” said Kelly Ward, a partner at Kamps and Ward Law Firm in Little Rock.
“We have the sixth amendment,” she said.
Pope County court records show an incoming college student, one unemployed and another barely making minimum wage were all denied a public defender.
Kelly Young-Franklin recently told Working 4 You she was on governmental assistance and was forced to represent herself at a criminal trial.
“I should have been able to qualify for a public defender,” said Young-Franklin.
Young-Franklin is one of several dozen messages Working 4 You has received, some believe they have been wronged, others report being denied a public defender by Pope County District Court Judge Don Bourne.
“It’s very fact-specific,” said Ward.
Ward is a former prosecutor turned defense attorney.
She said there is no textbook answer for people found guilty and forced to represent themselves because they were denied a public defender.
“It’s not a situation where there’s a bright-line rule, that says if this happens, then X,” said Ward. “You would have to look at each case individually.”
State records, KARK first showed you in October, reveal the public defender has been appointed 48 times over nine years in district courts across Pope County. It is a statistic that is significantly different than counties with a similar population over the same time period.
Ward said it is possible for someone, who has been denied a public defender, to have their case reviewed.
“If the court finds the right to counsel was violated, due process was violated, and the conviction is void,” she said.
The long-time lawyer said appealing the conviction comes down to evidence which she said may be difficult since district courts are not required to transcribe what is said.
“What evidence do you have this violation occurred,” she questioned.
It’s a fight Ward said many may try to pursue since change happens one step at a time.
Bourne did not respond to Working 4 You’s request for a comment, however, a couple of weeks ago Bourne said in a written statement that he typically does not appoint the public defender if someone has a job and he always tries to make the right decision about appointments.
The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDC) announced on Nov. 1 that it launched an investigation into Bourne.
Bourne was caught on camera over a year ago belittling an elderly woman who was an apparent domestic violence victim. Bourne can be heard on the video asking if she can understand English.
One woman demanded that the Arkansas Supreme Court step in immediately and suspend Bourne’s docket while JDDC conducted an investigation.