First of two parts
Emily White is not a cop. Yet earlier this year, Ms. White almost single-handedly brought down a judge who, her evidence strongly suggests, abused the power of his office for decades to coerce young men, including a minor, into sexual encounters that he sometimes paid to keep secret.
Presented with the evidence against him that Ms. White had developed, Arkansas District Judge O. Joseph Boeckmann Jr. of Wynne resigned from his judgeship in May. And there his case has stood — motionless — for the past four months. As a result, three questions now intertwine:
- Why did the judge’s conduct go unchallenged for so long, under the very noses of police, until Ms. White dug in?
- Why has her evidence, as presented by state officials, not led to criminal charges?
- And in light of the gross improprieties and possible crimes of which Mr. Boeckmann stands accused — claims that he has neither confirmed nor denied — why has the Arkansas Supreme Court’s Committee on Professional Conduct not yanked his license to practice law?
Mr. Boeckmann not only acted with bias and abused the public trust, the allegations state, but he also committed crimes, specifically: coercion and third-degree sexual assault, as well as engaging in “forced labor” – that is, obtaining services by threatening an illegal use of the law.
Ms. White, a former deputy prosecutor in Pulaski County, knows what kind of evidence the law requires to send someone to prison. So does her boss, David Sachar, the executive director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDC). The legislature established the JDDC as an independent body to review the conduct of judges and remove them if necessary. Thus it is no small thing that when Mr. Boeckmann resigned, Mr. Sachar labeled him “a criminal predator.”
Mr. Boeckmann resigned from his judgeship rather than face a JDDC disciplinary hearing at which Ms. White’s evidence was to be presented. In a statement of allegations filed in January of this year, the JDDC claimed that its evidence against the judge included more than a thousand photos of former defendants and probationers taken from his home computer; testimony from some of those men that Mr. Boeckmann offered them reduced sentences in exchange for favors such as posing nude for him at his home; and canceled checks from the judge’s personal account made payable to men who had appeared before him.
Ms. White had “15 boys ready to go to trial,” she said, and records of $30,000 the judge had paid to six of them over the past two- to three years. Though “it would have been hard on the boys,” she knew, she had hoped to hold the hearing “so that the public would know the gravity” of the judge’s alleged abuses.
Mr. Boeckmann avoided that spectacle by resigning. And that was far as Ms. White and the JDDC could take the case.
Still, Mr. Sachar made clear that he expected the case to continue. He told reporters that JDDC had given Ms. White’s voluminous evidence file to the Arkansas State Police and to federal authorities — presumably the FBI. Yet four months have passed since Mr. Boeckmann’s resignation, and police have announced no further action.
That leaves a number of disturbing questions. Taking the oldest first: How many trained police officers knew about but did nothing to stop the special kind of tyranny that was playing out, day after day, year after year, in Mr. Boeckmann’s Cross County court?
The JDDC alleged that when Mr. Boeckmann saw a certain type of young man before him, he would frequently dismiss the case, ordering the defendant to perform some sort of “community service,” such as picking up aluminum cans and delivering them to the address on a piece of paper he would hand the defendants from the bench — the address of his house.
Sometimes police officers who had arrested the men protested this deviation from the standard fines or jail time, court records, punishments that Mr. Boeckmann continued to order for female offenders and for men in whom he was not interested. But what about those officers’ superiors? A recent issue of Arkansas Times quotes Wynne Chief of Police Jeff Sanders acknowledging that watching Mr. Boeckmann dismiss charges against certain kinds of defendants became “just the normal routine” and that he had found the situation “frustrating.”
Frustrating? That’s it? How is it that Emily Ms. White, a woman who lives in a small town southwest of Little Rock, two and a half hours from Wynne, was able to piece together what was happening in Boechmann’s court when police who were there every day could not?
And what about the prosecutors — city and state — who saw certain cases routinely dismissed. So much community service for a particular type of defendant, and always with the note handed down from the bench? Did no one find this pattern disturbing enough to warrant a deeper look?