Working 4 You: Woman says Pope County judge denied her a public defender because of the car she drives

Working4You

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – A Pope County woman facing jail time on misdemeanor charges says she was denied a public defender because of the type of car she showed up to court in.

Marcy Gray can tell you about the ups and downs in life and the place she is regrettably no stranger to.

“The District Court in Russellville,” she says.

Gray says she made $12 an hour and the struggle to pay bills led her to steal.

“There are certain things, that I made excuses in my head for. A bag of dog food, I just failed to pay for it,” she says.

Authorities charged Gray with misdemeanor theft of property.

“It was a really difficult time. The stress was just so intense and the emotion,” she recalls.

Records show Gray, who admits she made a mistake, was fired from her job and asked Pope County District Court Judge Don Bourne for a public defender.

“Apparently, he saw me leave in the vehicle I was driving in. At that time, I was driving a BMW,” says Gray.

It was a 2001 BMW, which he says had been purchased by another family and worth about $3,000.

“It was absolutely no reflection on my financial status,” she said.

Gray says Bourne denied her a public defender.

“He had written on the top of it, she drives BMW,” she says.

Bourne has been at the center of a number of Working 4 You investigations in the past two months after records revealed public defenders were being used in his 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.

Gray faced the possibility of jail so she borrowed money from friends to hire a private lawyer.

“If I were to go to jail, that means I would lose my house. I don’t know what would happen to my dogs, which is a big deal to me,” says Gray.

She avoided jail but got slapped with $1,100 in fines.

“When we went to trial, he [Judge Bourne] said to me, if you didn’t have an attorney, you would go to jail,” says Gray.

Less than an hour after Gray’s interview, she says she received a call from Court Probation Services, which is located at the district court building.

The voicemail:

“Yes, this is court probation and just wanted to get a message to, if you could, to Marcy. We appreciate she did make a payment here not too long ago but she’s still quite a ways behind. If you could let her know if she can make another payment before the end of the month would be great to try and catch up. I was going to try and catch her out in the parking lot. She’s out here doing an interview with Channel 4 right now but I couldn’t get her attention. So, anyway, if you could let her know to try and get another payment before the end of the month? Thank you, bye-bye.”

Requests for an interview or a comment from Judge Bourne went unanswered. Our calls to the probation services office were not returned.

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