NOT A JUDGE: But Mary Ann Gunn plays one on TV.

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  • NOT A JUDGE: But Mary Ann Gunn plays one on TV.

I got an inquiry from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals several weeks ago, but missed that they’d finally issued a news release critical of the syndicated TV show scheduled to begin Monday (noon on Fox stations in Arkansas) featuring former Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn of Fayetteville. Gunn, who departed the bench after ethical and Supreme Court objections arose to her televising of drug court proceedings, portrays a drug court judge in the show, “Last Shot With Judge Gunn.” She’s declined to discuss specifics with me, but she’s reportedly using probationers enrolled in treatment programs and, according to various sources, the show is providing them money for treatment costs and some expenses.

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The drug court group, based in Alexandria, Va., thinks the show is misleading in depicting this as a drug court.

Like other court-based reality television shows, great lengths are taken to give viewers the impression that they are watching an official court in action. Teasers for Last Shot with Judge Gunn imply that the show is set in an actual Drug Court.

A press release dated September 13, 2011, states that “the show features Judge Mary Ann Gunn’s drug court and the real-life consequences of individuals with criminal charges who are battling drug addiction and alcoholism.”

In fact, Last Shot with Judge Gunn does not broadcast Drug Court or any other official court proceedings.

The release notes a courtroom is used, but is rented from Washington County, and people depicted as probation officers and other court-related personnel are paid to play those roles. But the real objection is similar to my own — TV is not good therapy.

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NADCP maintains that Drug Court professionals owe their primary, if not sole, allegiance to serving public safety and the needs of Drug Court participants. It is contrary to the Drug Court model for any decision, interaction or intervention to be influenced by extraneous considerations, including profit, entertainment value, television ratings, or publicity. Any effort to alter court proceedings for commercial aims contravenes the fundamental legal, ethical and clinical underpinnings of Drug Courts.

Furthermore, by leading the public to believe it is an official Drug Court, Last Shot with Judge Gunn potentially threatens the integrity of real Drug Courts in the public eye and undermines over two decades of unprecedented success.

In 2010, NADCP convened a national panel of experts in ethics, law, treatment and the recovery community to carefully consider the ethics, benefits and potential risks of televising Drug Court proceedings. NADCP’s Board of Directors concluded on the basis of these deliberations that any benefits that might accrue from broadcasting Drug Court proceedings are substantially outweighed by the potential for serious subsequent emotional, financial or legal harms to the participants and their families. Notably, both the Arkansas Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee and the Supreme Court of Arkansas reached a similar conclusion.

Yep.

UPDATED TWICE: The producers of “Last Shot With Judge Gunn” have responded to the criticism, in part by saying the person responsible for distributing the criticism is just sore because Gunn didn’t do a TV deal he proposed. He has since told me she has “badly misrepresented” a discussion they had. I’d also add that the producer’s statement is not a response, except generally, to the state ethics panel, Arkansas Supreme Court, rehab agencies in Arkansas and numerous others who question putting people on TV and also question Gunn’s handling of confidential medical records that came through her court.

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