AMPed Up

Witnesses to the investigator: ‘Do you know about the boys?’

This is Part Two of this story. Read Part One: The Investigator and the Judge

The complaint against Judge O. Joseph Boeckmann that fell to investigator Emily White was convoluted but not particularly scandalous.

Ms. White became involved in Mr. Boeckmann’s case in 2014 after an investigator for the Department of Human Services – who, like Ms. White, is not a police officer – filed a conflict-of-interest complaint against the judge with the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDC).

Mr.  Boeckmann, the complaint alleged, had reduced a suspect’s $50,000 cash bond and released her from jail on her own recognizance. Police had charged the woman with six felony counts, that included “abuse of an endangered or impaired person.” The woman allegedly had stolen $30,000 from an elderly couple.

Joseph Boeckmann in 2004. (Photo provided by the Wynne Progress.)

Joseph Boeckmann in 2004. (Photo  courtesy of Wynne Progress.)

David Sachar, executive director of the JDDC, gave Ms. White the case, which was the second time the commission had turned its attention to Mr.  Boeckmann.  In 2009, the JDDC issued a public letter of admonishment to Mr.  Boeckmann after it investigated allegations of bias against him.

When Ms. White investigated the 2014 claim, she found, as the JDDC later reported, that the beneficiary of the judge’s leniency was — follow this – the sister of one of Mr.  Boeckmann’s former male sexual partners; the mother of Mr.  Boeckmann’s niece; and she worked for Mr.  Boeckmann’s sister – one of his eight siblings – who  managed a nursing-care company in Wynne to which Mr.  Boeckmann reportedly contributed “several thousand dollars each year.”

By August 2015, Ms. White had enough evidence to make her case. She could have reported those facts and closed her conflict of interest investigation. But 10 months into the investigation, she took sworn testimony from district court employees who asked her: “Do you know about the boys?”

She understood this was more than conflict of interest. Ms. White dug in. Mr. Boeckmann resigned his position in May before the JDDC could schedule a hearing into the case.

As a result of Ms. White’s investigation, the questions around Mr.  Boeckmann now have widened beyond the original suspect. The JDDC’s extraordinary filing noted evidence of “several thousand dollars” that Mr. Boeckmann had paid to “different attorneys in and around Wynne”— attorneys who handled cases in his court.

The JDDC filed the final statement of its allegations nine months ago, in January. By then, Sachar and Ms. White felt that they were ready to present their evidence against Mr. Boeckmann to the commission at the equivalent of a public trial. In May, when Mr. Boeckmann avoided that by resigning, Sachar acknowledged the help the JDDC had received in its investigation from the Arkansas State Police and the cyber crimes unit of Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office.

It is apparent, then, that state and perhaps federal authorities have had Ms. White’s evidence for at least eight months. They have known of the JDDC’s allegation, stated in bold in the January filing, that Mr. Boeckmann may have violated not only Arkansas’s Code of Judicial Conduct, but state and federal laws as well.

And that raises questions about the prosecuting attorneys who might have brought charges against Mr. Boeckmann but didn’t. Fletcher Long is the state prosecutor for the district where Mr. Boeckmann held court. When the Arkansas Times asked him about the allegations concerning the judge, Mr. Long took a wait-and-see approach. “I neither believe or disbelieve them,” Mr. Long said. “I believe we’ll find out.”

Chris Thyer, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, is the top federal law enforcement officer for this side of the state. But he, too, has been silent. That’s especially serious because, if Mr. Boeckmann has been abusing his role as alleged, that betrayal of public trust would also mean that he violated the civil rights of every person who came before him — a crime of significant federal proportions.

So far, it seems that police and prosecutors who could have stopped Mr. Boeckmann in the past and who have the power to charge him now have turned away from that task. The most charitable and hopeful interpretation I can bring to the present situation is that, having delayed for so long, some of those officials — or others — are preparing a sweep that extends the investigation that Ms. White began almost two years ago.

We’ll see.

Meantime, the Arkansas Supreme Court has much to answer for in this case. The JDDC is an independent body, not under that court’s control. Allegations as severe as those it issued against a sitting judge deserved a response from the state’s high court. But here, too, there has been silence, even from the court’s Committee on Professional Conduct.

Judges are first of all lawyers. The supreme court’s Rule of Professional Conduct requires that, “A lawyer’s conduct should conform to the requirements of the law;” that a lawyer “should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others;” and that a lawyer “must strive to avoid not only professional impropriety, but also the appearance of impropriety.”

However, as I have reported before, unlike the JDDC, the supreme court’s Committee on Professional Conduct has earned a reputation for allowing “conduct unbecoming” among this state’s attorneys, especially those who in some way represent the state itself.

As she investigated Mr. Boeckmann, Ms. White said, she heard from men who traced his requests for sexual favors in exchange for leniency back almost 40 years when he was a prosecuting attorney. Now, with nine months since the JDDC filed its final allegations against the judge and four since he resigned, little seems to have changed except that Mr. Boeckmann lost his job as a judge.

Of all the dirty questions stirred up when he stepped down, two in particular hang in the air unsettled: How much more time will elapse before any police agency acts on Ms. White’s evidence? And, if the judge is eventually charged with crimes, how many associates will go down too?

1 Comment

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