The state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission today censured Pulaski Circuit Judge Mary McGowan for rude treatment of people in her court.
McGowan accepted the censure rather than appeal in a public proceeding before the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.
The case covered multiple complaints in McGowan’s court in 2016 and 2017 in which the investigation found she’d been “impatient, discourteous and undignified for a judge” to defendants, her staff
A censure is the stiffest punishment, short of suspension or removal from office.
In this case it comes with McGowan’s agreement to refrain from such conduct; to be “patient, courteous and dignified at all times;” to attend a course on proper judicial demeanor; to coordinate regularly with the chief administrative judge in the circuit, Vann Smith, on the management of the court; to allow Commission staff to monitor her courtroom at any time, and to provide audio recordings of proceedings as requested.
The Commission will monitor compliance. with the agreement for the remainder of her career.
The news release said the Commission had not sought a more serious punishment because of the judge’s “willingness to accept that your actions were in violation of the Code.”
McGowan received a letter of “adjustment” in 2015 over a delay in handling a case. In 2008, she received a reprimand for failure to be patient and courteous to people in her court.
The latest action could play a role in a dispute being reviewed by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley stopped sending defendants to the drug court McGowan oversees 14 months ago, in part because of what he termed abusive treatment of his staff. He also raised questions about high re-arrest rates for people in her court. She told the Democrat-Gazette in an interview she’d never been abusive to anyone in her court. Because of the problem with Jegley, other judges tried to come up with an alternative plan to work around McGowan. Jegley refused to participate.
That caused a delay in the annual Supreme Court approval of how cases are divided in each of the state’s judicial circuits.
In late June, the Supreme Court appointed a retired judge, Bentley Story of Forrest City, to review the controversy over case assignments in the district, which covers Perry as well as Pulaski County. He’s been interviewing people involved in the matter and is to make a recommendation by Sept. 1.
The drug court is the state’s oldest and has been under McGowan’s supervision for a couple of decades. She’s in her 28th year as