LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission on Friday recommended that a Pulaski County circuit judge be removed from the bench for having too close of a relationship with some defendants who were on probation.
The commission unanimously found that Judge Willard Proctor violated judicial rules 16 times through his work with the Cycle Breakers probation program. The decision now heads to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which will determine whether he should be removed from office.
Proctor, who won office in 2000 by defeating judge who was fighting his own removal from office, was investigated for financially benefiting from the program and his relationships with probationers.
The commission found Proctor's involvement in the program's operations "cast reasonable doubt in the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge."
It noted Proctor sent money to a robber he had sentenced to prison and had let the man live at his home for more than a week. Proctor also gave rides in his personal vehicle to at least eight defendants, the commission determined.
Neither Proctor nor his attorney could immediately be reached for comment Friday.
The nine-member commission, however, did not recommend that Proctor be suspended from the bench while his case is pending before the high court. Commission officials had recommended his suspension while the ethics case was pending.
David Stewart, the commission's executive director, said he hoped Proctor would shut down the probationer program.
"We have always had concerns about the ongoing operations of Cycle Breakers, Inc. and its involvement with the 5th Division," Stewart said, referring to Proctor's court. "If those operations ceased, then I wouldn't have near the concern that I've had in the past."
The ethics charges against Proctor prompted his fellow judges to request that the Arkansas Supreme Court take away his criminal caseload. The other circuit judges have approved a plan to assign only civil cases to Proctor next year, a move that has to be approved by the Supreme Court.
Judges, however, rejected a move this week to recommend to the court that the plan take effect immediately.
In its four-page ruling, the commission also said Proctor coerced his staff into working for the Cycle Breakers program and imposed "civil fees" on defendants for not complying with Cycle Breakers rules.
Proctor is the second judge the commission has recommended for removal from the bench over the past year. The panel has already recommended that Phillips County Circuit Judge L.T. Simes be removed from the bench over accusations that he practiced law while serving as a judge.
The state Supreme Court on Thursday delayed Simes' case and ordered the commission to file more documents in the proceedings.
The first judge stripped of his robes by the state's highest court, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Morris Thompson, was kicked out of office in 2000 after justices ruled that Thompson wrote hot checks, failed to pay his federal income taxes and engaged in other misconduct.
Proctor defeated Thompson for the judgeship in 2000 while Thompson was contesting the high court's decision to remove him from office.