MARY ANN GUNN: She called the TV shots.

  • MARY ANN GUNN: She called the TV shots.

Information continues to trickle in about Mary Ann Gunn, the former circuit judge who quit the bench to film a syndicated commercial TV show about her time as a drug court judge. She’s a darling of Northwest Arkansas press, which hasn’t been much bothered by her method of dragging people seeking fresh starts onto TV screens or shown much interest in seeking evidence that her methods have been as successful as the editorial writers seem to think they are.

A lawsuit has been filed seeking to prevent use of drug court video in the commercial TV show. A Supreme Court rule now prohibits filming of such courts. An editorial in the local Northwest Arkansas newspapers that are sold in combination with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wasn’t too concerned about the arguments in the case, writing today in an editorial, in part (note CORRECTION: I originally indicated incorrectly that the local wraparounds were the D-G itself):

No one challenged this practice in a suit brought before an appropriate court while these recordings were being made. Everyone who entered drug court did so as an alternative to going to trial on a felony charge. It was an opportunity to get off drugs and get the defendant’s life in order.

Remarkably successful as it was, many people failed the drug court program. None of them successfully appealed and protested that either the televising or the recording of drug court harmed his or her case in any way.

No one claimed until recently that any harm was done by these recordings being preserved. Nothing was recorded that didn’t take place in an open courtroom. Any member of the public who was so inclined could have gone to court on any particular day, sat in the audience and watched the proceedings.

Some problems with this and one is obvious: Nobody in drug court could have imagined the judge was building a record she intended to take to commercial TV producers for national telecast. None of them anticipated the judge would haul off 76 bank boxes full of their records, some of them personal medical records, when she left office. None of them thought to ask the judge if the copies of the videos provided to her would ever wind up in California TV producers’ hands.

So far, there’s no evidence that those who are now objecting in a lawsuit to seeing their lives on national TV ever signed a waiver allowing their cases to be televised. And at least one defendant did object in a timely fashion. Too bad for her. Judge Gunn was the law, no matter what court rules then said about requiring approval of parties before court proceedings could be broadcast. The evidence is from a transcript of a hearing for a woman kept in Gunn’s drug court for three troubled years, including an episode in which Gunn jailed her for being photographed in the proximity of a high-powered rifle (not a crime so far as I know.)

The transcript depicts an environment in which Gunn decided who’d be on TV, whether they wanted to or not. Being on TV clearly was part of Gunn’s bargain if you wanted the alternative to jail that drug court provided. This is precisely the coercive effect the judicial ethics panel feared in finding the televised drug court was improper. Too bad the NWA newspapers didn’t have a reporter in the courtroom for the episode memorialized below.

(PS — I’ve been told Gunn is getting participants for her TV show by paying a local drug treatment outfit for treatment of people willing to be on TV. She won’t have jail as a hammer; just the end of payment for treatment. I’ve yet to find anyone with studies to show TV exposure is good drug rehab therapy. One agency refused to participate, I was told.)

On to the transcript: