RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Witnesses say the Pope County district court judge was caught on camera over a year ago belittling an elderly woman who was an apparent crime victim.
The video shows Judge Don Bourne speaking to the elderly woman, telling her that it is her name in a police report, The woman gives an inaudible response before Bourne gives a more aggressive reply.
“What don’t you understand? You don’t understand English,” the judge could be heard asking.
Bourne then tells the woman to come closer and she begins using a cane to keep her balance.
“Can you hear me now?” Bourne asked the woman. “You called the police, you said your son was threatening you, you said he was crazy, you said he was going to bash you in the head, he was going to hurt you and other members of the family and that he had a gun.”
The court hearing ended with the woman’s son being taken to jail for apparently interrupting Bourne multiple times.
Kerrie Cochran, a critic of the judge who also said she has seen others not treated well in his courtroom, said she was shocked to see that happen in a courtroom.
“No one objected to what Judge Bourne said,” she told KARK 4 News.
Cochran now lives in Madison, Wisconsin, but grew up in Pope County. She said she had never been in trouble before prior to a traffic stop when she was 16 years old. She did not have her insurance card at the time and was given a ticket.
“Nothing happened with me. He just asked, ‘Did you get it fixed?’” she recalled of her 20`5 court appearance. “I said, ‘Yes Sir.’ He let me go.”
It’s what happened in the case before hers that Cochran said left her questioning the entire Arkansas judicial system. She said that case involved a man who could not speak English.
“Judge Bourne did not allow the interpreter this man brought up to the stand with him and told him, I don’t know word for word, but told him, if you’re going to be in my country, in my town, you’re going to speak my language,” Cochran claimed.
The state offers interpreters to Arkansas courts free of charge. It is unclear, at the time of this reporting, if the interpreter who appeared before Bourne was certified with the state.
Cochran said she remembered watching the man, who was eventually fined on a traffic citation, go through the system alone.
“He has no idea what is being said by anyone in the room,” she remembered. “I felt really bad for the guy.”
Bourne has been at the center of a number of Working 4 You investigations in the past week after records revealed public defenders were being used in a courtroom only a fraction of the time compared to other similar sized counties.
He defended his actions in a statement to KARK 4 News in an earlier report, saying that as many as 95% of people who go to district court plead guilty and that they, “want their cases to be over with, and the[y] do not ask for an attorney.”
Following that earlier story, the head of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission (JDDC) said an Investigation Panel will conduct a “thorough and confidential investigation” into the details of Bourne’s story.
Cochran thinks the Arkansas Supreme Court, the state’s top justices, needs to step in immediately while JDDC conducts its investigation.
“Preventatively, I think suspending the docket would be a good idea,” she said.
While this level of intervention is rare, the Supreme Court has done so in the past, suspending a Pulaski County judge from hearing death row cases.
Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Beth Goodrich told Working 4 You that it is imperative that all participants in the judicial process operate with compassion.
“The pursuit of justice must always include a spirit of fairness and respect. When it comes to domestic violence cases, it is imperative that all participants in the judicial process operate with compassion. When a court operates without recognizing that all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity, it makes the community wary of the process which leads to further isolation of victims of violence, allows for offenders to escape accountability, and creates a culture of mistrust between the community and it’s leaders. It takes a certain amount of strength to call for help, failure to avoid retraumatizing victims of violence teaches victims that their calls for help will go unanswered – or worsen their situation altogether. No one who has called for help deserves to be shamed or made to jump through hoops to receive the protections guaranteed to them in our state and national constitution. It is the belief of the ACADV that all courts, criminal or civil, should receive specialized training on domestic violence, trauma-informed service provision, and basic tenets of homicide prevention. All of which, the ACADV provides for free – upon request – to the community. For those wishing to file a formal complaint on any judicial representative, we urge you to contact the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission via the www.jddc.arkansas.gov where you can file a complaint, find resources, and learn more about the judicial system in Arkansas.”
KARK 4 News has reached out to Bourne to comment on this story but did not hear back.