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Arkansas judge facing suspension after 'verbal abuse' of defendants

An Arkansas judge is facing possible suspension after making derogatory comments to defendants and refusing to provide them with lawyers.

ARKANSAS, USA — The Arkansas Supreme Court has been issued a Letter of Censure and Recommendation of Suspension without Pay from the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDCC) in regards to a local judge.

The letter is being filed against Pope County Judge Don Bourne, who is accused of violating the judicial conduct code after engaging in "injudicious behavior toward defendants."

Officials said that behavior came in the form of "rash" statements that Bourne would frequently make during proceedings which would reference defendant's ethnicity, appearance, background, and residence. 

Bourne began serving in Pope County as an elected District Court Judge on Jan. 1, 2001 and has received complaints of his alleged behavior, some of which was captured on video and recalled by witnesses. 

Many of the inflammatory statements that witnesses recalled hearing from Bourne focused on language barriers, job status, appearance, and location. 

Witness and video examples show Bourne's adamancy for Spanish speaking defendants to learn English if they were "going to be in this country, county, [or] city."

A few of those alleged statements are as follows: 

  • "If you were a good employee, you wouldn't have been laid off. Go get a job and get [that] out of your eyebrows.
  • "I get a lot of troublemakers from California."
  • "You should have stayed in Chicago."
  • "You should have stayed in South Arkansas."

Additionally, Bourne is accused of refusing to provide defendants with lawyers, saying statements such as, "I am not going to appoint a lawyer for you. Get a job." 

Officials said that he would also discourage defendants from seeking a legal team under the guise that they would "probably not" qualify for it.

"You did not appear to recognize your problematic activity even after several complaints against you had been filed," JDCC officials said regarding the judge's behavior.  

Reports show that Bourne's alleged bullying, angry demeanor, and pointed statements were so verbally abusive, that those who weren't even the target of the statements still frequently reported the judge's behavior in open court. 

Bourne is also accused of improperly filing indigency [poverty] affidavits, despite receiving multiple complaints that were submitted by defendants over years. 

Reports say that the affidavits were rarely approved and were not kept as public record. These same documents were destroyed before an official complaint was filed on the lack of public access to the affidavits. 

Officials have recommended a 90 day suspension for Bourne, which will need to be reviewed by the Arkansas Supreme Court before action can be taken. Additional violations could prevent him running for judicial office or accepting an governor or supreme court appointments.

According to reports, Bourne agreed to the sanctions that were listed in the JDCC's press release. 

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