State judicial regulators unveiled today a shocking series of ethical charges against Cross County District Judge Joseph Boeckmann of Wynne. They detail years of alleged trading of preferential court treatment in return for personal work and sexual favors from young men and an allegation that he had child pornography on a home computer.
This case has been simmering for months. We reported in August that the investigation against the judge included an allegation that he’d used defendants sentenced in his court to community service for personal use. Channel 4 broke news of the investigation first.
The charges were serious enough that, in addition to an investigation by the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, information was referred to a special state prosecutor. No word has yet been forthcoming about the results of that separate probe.
Under the rules, even with such serious allegations, the disciplinary agency may not suspend the judge. In cases such as these, however, if a judge does not agree to discontinue presiding in the face of such charges, the agency could seek an extraordinary order from the state Supreme Court suspending the judge during pendency of the complaint. David Sachar, executive director of the Commission, said he has not ruled that out in this case.
A series of judicial ethics cases have been brought under a variety of ethical rules pertaining to judge’a behavior. Boeckmann had 30 days to respond and may challenge them in public proceedings.
Jeff Rosenzweig, attorney for the judge, said, “We will file a document denying the charges and will be defending against the allegations in front of the commission.” He said he was unable to comment at this time on whether the judge would continue to preside.
The bare summaries of the charges:
* He handled cases involving the sister of a man with whom he’d had an intimate relationship. The man also had appearances in Boeckmann’s court. The judge allegedly used his relationship to influence a criminal investigation of the sister, who worked for an elder care company managed by his sister.
* Boeckmann awarded community service to male litigants to work at his home and report to him as he desired. Said the complaint:
“The ‘work’ usually consisted of picking up cans either alongside city roads in Wynne, or actually picking up cans at Boeckmannn’s residence, wherein Boeckmann would photograph the buttocks of the men as they were bending to retrieve the garbage. Multiple male litigants have been photographed by Boeckmann during these ‘community serivce’ type sentences. Boeckmann maintained these photographs of male litigants’ buttocks in his home for his own personal use. In addition to the illegal sentences, Boeckmann has used his judicial status to form relationships, personal and sexual, with male litigants. Beockmann has engaged in a consistent pattern of seeking out young Caucasain male litigants before Cross County District Court for the purpose of forming personal sexual relations with the litigants, thus creating a self-imposed conflict of interest for himself in his role as Cross County District Court judge.”
The complaint says he focused on men aged 18-35. He’d allow them to linger after court and receive instructions on where “substitutionary sentences” could be conducted. He would contact them by etlephone and then request them to pick up requirements at his home or office. When they arrived, he solicited sexual relations in return for reductions or dismissals of sentences The complaint says this activity dated back to 2009, when he took the bench.
The complaint details individual cases, with victims identified by initials. One man charged with a misdemeanor said he allowed Boeckmann to photograph him clothed and unclothed for money. Additionally, he said he helped removed pornographic images from the judge’s computer.
A second victim came to court on a traffic charge. He said he resisted some of Boeckmann’s requests, but never had to pay fines assessed against him.
A third victim, originally in contact with Boeckmann as his attorney on a drug charge, said he worked for Boeckmann at his home and even lived there at times while having a sexual relationship after he became a judge. Boeckmann gave him cars and a boat and paid other bills for him, the complaint said.
The complaint said banking records indicate Boeckmann gave money to lawyers who appeared before him and to law enforcement officials and to the court itelf on behalf of litigants in his court with whom he’d had personal or employment relationships.
The complaint said “on information and belief” that Boeckmann possessed images of men younger than 18 on his personal computer.
The complaint also alleges unequal treatment of defendants; discourteous, impatient and undignified behavior in court, and retaliation against witnesses against him judicial proceedings.
Boeckmann has 30 days to respond to these complaints. He did not respond to my earlier attempts to reach him for comment. His seat is on the election ballot next year, but he has not filed for re-election. It’s unusual, under the circumstances, with only 13 months remaining on his term, that he’d fight this complaint to a full trial. He most likely could have agreed to resign now and agreed never to serve again and been subject to a complaint more general in nature than these detailed complaints.
Boeckmann’s longer history seems certain to undergo more scrutiny. He served as a prosecutor before he became a judge.