RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – An Arkansas woman says she was denied a public defender and found guilty in a courtroom that has been the center of a Working 4 You investigation.
“I should have been able to qualify for a public defender,” Kelly Young-Franklin said.
She is likely correct because of the governmental assistance she had been receiving but added that Pope County District Court Judge Don Bourne, back in 2018, told her to get a job instead.
“What he told me was, I was able-bodied,” Young-Franklin recalled. “Basically saying because I could work, I didn’t need a public defender,”
Young-Franklin said she did not have a job because she had been pursuing a master’s degree.
According to her, what led up to the case was an arrest by Russellville police in 2018. She said she called 911 to report her stolen phone had been pinging inside a house but noted the officers did not talk with her when they arrived and went up to the home.
“I get out of the car and I begin filming them and I believe this upset them because the next thing I know, the police officer is arresting me,” she recalled.
Her charges included obstruction of governmental operations and disorderly conduct, charges that City Attorney Trey Smith, who serves as a prosecutor in district court, confirmed Monday he tried to dismiss.
“I had decided to dismiss as a warning, talked to the officer who wrote the citation and got his approval to dismiss as a warning,” Smith said in an email to Working 4 You. “Made the motion when the case was called and the judge [Don Bourne] denied the request.”
Young-Franklin said she started preparing for trial because she could not afford a private attorney.
“I gathered evidence. I got all the 911 calls,” she recalled. “I did everything I thought I should do and then I wasn’t able to present any of it whenever I got to court.”
Working 4 You found several affidavits from people, some claiming to barely make minimum wage and another unemployed, who were all denied a public defender by Bourne.
In 2018, Young-Franklin went to a Russellville city council meeting to be heard but was told by then Mayor Randy Horton that she had to go to the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDC).
“We have no disciplinary judication over District Court, whatsoever. This is not the proper venue for your complaint,” Horton said at the time.
Records show JDDC Executive Director David Sachar acknowledged her complaint, but details of the investigation were never disclosed.
Last week, Sachar announced that the commission launched another investigation into Bourne hours after Working 4 You uncovered state numbers that appear to show that for the most part, public defenders had not been getting appointed in district courts across Pope County.
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.”
The JDDC investigation does not review issues that arise from a judge’s independent decision, they look at patterns and if there is any judicial conduct violations.
Young-Franklin said Bourne found her guilty of the charges and sentenced her to 48 hours in jail. The county jail released her early.
She believes she was wrongfully convicted because she did not have appropriate counsel.
The law shows a judge is supposed to consider things such as financial obligations to the seriousness of the charges before appointing a public defender.
Attempts to contact Bourne for a comment on this development in the story were unsuccessful, but he released a statement last week that noted 95% of people plead guilty in his courtroom and he always tries to make the right decision about appointing the public defender.