The Legislative Joint Performance Review Committee has subpoenaed Circuit Judge Patricia James, who handles juvenile cases in Pulaski and Perry County, to testify to explain her child custody decisions.
Now the truth: This is the latest example of a power-thirsty Republican legislature run amok. The constitutional power it gave itself under voters’ approval of institutionalization of legislative review was already breathtaking. It further diminished an executive weak because of the 51 percent veto override provisions in the Constitution.
But now the legislature wants to tell the court what to do. The amendment to cripple lawsuits against nursing homes will end court control of court rules and pass it to the legislature. But this James subpoena is an even more audacious flexing of unconstitutional muscle.
Republican Sen. Alan Clark of Hot Springs seems to be driving the train, as part of his crusade against judges who put the safety interest of children ahead of parents whose religion or simple nuttiness favors physical punishment, weird food supplements and other strange ideas. DHS also doesn’t like to be called down in court by judges when they fail to follow court rules and procedures, and their unhappiness is the root of some of this. (We all know what a great job they’ve done looking after children in the past; Justin Harris, anyone?) They’ve complained about some of James’ rulings.
First. Of course, she should answer a legal subpoena. She must. The system demands it. And then she should tell legislators, in polite terms, to get f****ed. The ethical rules that govern judges prohibit her from discussing why she made certain rulings. She is not obliged to defend or explain them.
If DHS doesn’t like Judge James rulings, there is an established procedure to follow. They may appeal them to the Arkansas Supreme Court. As beholden as that court has proven lately of legislative wishes, they might get some relief.
I need know NOTHING of the particulars of the cases that James has handled that have prompted this unprecedented subpoena and the threat to hold her “in contempt of court” as KARK put it, if she doesn’t answer. The legislators are daily in contempt of the separation of powers doctrine of the Constitution. Patty James may not call them on it, but I will.
On issue of contention is this: James has previously explained that while Arkansas law gives preference for placement of children with relatives, judges must first weigh the safety of those decisions and sometimes decide state custody is preferable. Again, if DHS or someone else believes the judge erred in deciding the safest place for a child, they may appeal. In court.
Judge James responded in writing:
“All I can comment is that I have not seen the subpoena yet, but once it is received, it will be forwarded to the appropriate people to respond to it.”
It would have been injudicious to say, “stick it where the sun don’t shine.” I am reminded of the famous George Fisher cartoon of the place where the sun doesn’t shine being the brain of Tommy Robinson. If only George were around to update the cartoon with Alan Clark.