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A Cabot judge on suspension no longer faces a criminal charge stemming from allegations that he grabbed his girlfriend's throat in August.

District Judge Joe O'Bryan's misdemeanor count of domestic battery was dismissed by Special District Judge David Reynolds after the specially appointed prosecutor, Cody Hiland of Conway, said the woman at the center of the case didn't want to see O'Bryan prosecuted.

O'Bryan remains suspended with pay by the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission. He is seeking re-election and has so far drawn two opponents.

Reynolds' order of dismissal said other evidence found during witness interviews also led to Hiland's request for dismissal.

Reached by telephone Friday, Hiland said his office sometimes prosecutes domestic battery cases when the victims recant or refuse to cooperate, but O'Bryan's case was not one of those situations.

"It depends on the severity of the situation, and you have to use your common sense and look at the context of what's happening," Hiland said.

Robin Richard, who police said had marks on her chest and neck following the late-night fight with O'Bryan on Aug. 21, submitted an affidavit to the court Oct. 30 stating: "I no longer want to press charges. Judge Joe O'Bryan is a caring person also he is a excellent judge."

According to police reports, Richard and O'Bryan were dating and had been drinking at a Lonoke residence. The two started arguing when O'Bryan wanted to leave despite being intoxicated, police reports said.

Officers' reports stated that "[O'Bryan] became angry and grabbed her around her throat and threw her on the kitchen table."

After others at the house intervened, the judge left in his vehicle and was arrested at his Cabot home later that night.

In a phone interview Tuesday, O'Bryan maintained his innocence. He said that night's altercation was the end of his relationship with Richard. O'Bryan did not return a call for comment Friday.

Richard, contacted by phone Friday, said the two were still romantically involved. She said the events that led to O'Bryan's arrest were the result of a "minor miscommunication" and that O'Bryan is of good character.

On Aug. 27, O'Bryan was suspended with pay by the judicial discipline commission.

Even with the dismissal of the misdemeanor charge, O'Bryan could still face sanctions from the commission, according to the group's executive director, David Sachar.

"It's not like he's automatically unsuspended because the criminal charge went away," Sachar said. "We will promptly review the matter to determine if we have any information for which we could go forward. If it's unprosecutable by us, we'll present [the ethics complaint] to the panel for dismissal."

Sachar said his group should have a decision within the next 30 days.

O'Bryan was first elected as the Cabot District Court judge in 1990. He said Tuesday that his record as judge, and the reputation he's built, are enough cause for voters' support. He said the recent arrest doesn't impact his ability to do the job.

"I will say, [being arrested is] an experience I've never had before and it's something that so many people have come in front of me have had to endure," O'Bryan said. "I felt like it was, I don't know quite how to put it, it gives you an idea of what that experience is like, let's put it that way."

One of his challengers, Ward City Attorney Clint McGue, said he wouldn't comment on O'Bryan's legal issues but said they probably had a role in prompting multiple opponents in the upcoming election. The judicial general election is March 1.

John Flynn, a bankruptcy attorney in Cabot who is also running for O'Bryan's bench, said that O'Bryan's behavior showed that voters need to re-evaluate who they want running their local court.

"[Running for office] is not something I've had a burning desire to do, but it's something I feel I have a civil obligation to do," Flynn said. "I don't think [O'Bryan] is in a position to have the moral authority to sit and pass judgment on people charged with the same things in his courtroom. That's one of the reasons we definitely need a change."

Metro on 11/07/2015

Print Headline: Battery charge against judge dismissed

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