The disciplinary investigation of Judge Wade Naramore of Hot Springs is subject of a public report from the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission on the still open review of the judge following his arrest for negligent homicide in the hot car death of his child Thomas in 2015.
Naramore was acquitted and the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a lifting of his suspension yesterday, but ordered that juvenile abuse and neglect cases in Naramore’s circuit be reassigned to other judges. The decision effectively cut the legs out from under the still-open judicial commission investigation. The Supreme Court, which hears appeals of the commission’s decisions, has already decided Naramore should go back to work. The Supreme Court’s view of the case is certain to be raised when others face repercussions in similar matters — think drivers of daycare vans who”ve left children in a van all day.
Reporting by Marci Manley at Fox 16 and other evidence indicates that the holdup in the investigation of Naramore, despite his acquittal, was likely related to review of Naramore’s potential placement on the state child abuse and neglect registry. His child died as a result of a negligent act, unintentional though it was. Naramore has said the child was in the backseat of his car when he went to work in the morning on a hot day and he discovered his error after lunch.
This public circumstances would likely have prompted a report to state Child Protective Services. In such cases, a person can be placed on the child abuse registry for negligence or abandonment that causes death. A place on the registry that can enter into an employer’s decision when doing a background check, particularly for such people as teachers and child care workers. The law, however, contains no bar to employment for court officials should such a listing occur.
A person so designated can ask for a hearing from a state administrative law judge. That person may appeal the law judge’s finding to circuit court. Such cases proceed confidentially. A final adverse ruling in circuit court can be appealed to a higher court and the case then can become open to public view.
David Sachar, executive director of the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, made reports to the Supreme Court in the Naramore case that were placed today on the public court recorde.
One is a status report completed Jan. 31 and given, in confidentiality, to the Arkansas Supreme Court. It said the investigation remained open for reasons beyond its control.
All parties await information from a third party, of which, neither the Judge and his counsel nor the JDDC have any control over’ The information is of sufficient importance so as to be considered dispositive in nature by the Director, Deputy Director and Investigation Panel 2 of the JDDC. Lack of receipt of this information kept the Panel from making a decision at their December and January meetings.
Upon receipt of th eintbrmation refercnced in paragraph four )above’ the JDDC complaint against Judge Naramore for the death of his son, will either be dismissed, resolved by agreement or result in public charges. Any of these dispositions would be public information at the time of the decision of the Investigation Panel.
Also filed today is a partially redacted (portions were blanked out) updated status report completed Tuesday. It said, that Sachar had discussed with Naramore’s attorney, Patrick Benca, ” the uncertainty that could arise if the judge [remainder of sentence redacted.]” This seems likely to be a reference to the child abuse registry proceeding. The filing said Benca did not concede the unspecified matter would amount to a violation of the judicial code of conduct, but said it was an “impediment.”
The documents contain several other censored references to the unspecified proceeding. The report says Benca was encouraged to wait for a completion of the proceeding, which could produce an outcome with no implications for the judge. This status report said the disciplinary agency could find no precedent for a circumstance similar to what Naramore might be facing, including whether it might come into play with the general judicial conduct rule that says judges must promote confidence in the judiciary.
Sachar’s report said Naramore and his attorney had been cooperative and professional throughout. It comments that the agency has no power to authorize any changes in case assignment plans. That reference, and the existence of two status reports, indicate that the Supreme Court had requested the status reports and raised the assignment issue. It’s unusual since the discipline agency nominally operates independently and the Supreme Court reviews its decisions. Here, the court intervened before completion. Their motivation is unclear. It could stem from public complaints in Hot Springs that a judge was somehow getting preferential treatment or from local media reporting on the $70,000 cost of paying substitute judges to serve for Naramore while he remained on suspension and drew full pay of about $160,000 a year.
Sachar’s filing today defended hisagency’s work in coping with the “heartbreaking facts” of an “unprecedented” judicial ethics case.
But he said, “To go forward with probable cause vote on judicial ethics charges by the Investigation Panel, based on ********** seemed unfair.”
Though that unspecified matter apparently still pends, the Supreme Court decided anyway to act.
UPDATE: Here’s Marci Manley’s report on Fox 16, which includes documents that support the conclusion that an appeal of placement on the child registry explains the delay in completing the judicial investigation. She cites documents that indicate Naramore appealed to circuit court a “true finding” of neglect against Naramore. She said the filing at the Supreme Court indeed is meant to say there’s never been a case in another state of a judge serving on the bench after placement on such a registry.