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Judge gets reproach for tardy case ruling

Decision in suit took 13 months by John Lynch | November 19, 2016 at 3:40 a.m.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mary McGowan has accepted an "informal adjustment" for taking too long to rule on a lawsuit in her court, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission announced on Friday.

McGowan, a circuit judge since 1991, acknowledged that she took 13 months to resolve the lawsuit, which involves litigation that attorney Sam Perroni brought against the commission in 2012. He had challenged the legality of the way the commission operated.

All arguments were submitted to McGowan by the end of 2014, but she didn't dismiss the lawsuit until January 2016, the commission's sanctioning letter says.

McGowan has acknowledged that the delay violated judicial canons that require a judge to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary while avoiding the appearance of impropriety, perform judicial duties diligently and put judicial duties ahead of any personal activities or interests, the letter says.

The "adjustment" letter issued by the commission is its mildest reproach, according to the announcement.

McGowan was not in the office Friday afternoon when a reporter went to her seeking a comment.

She was reprimanded by the commission in November 2008 for failing to report cases that had taken longer than three months to rule on.

When McGowan finally dismissed Perroni's suit, she sided with the Arkansas attorney general's office argument that the commission operated in accordance with the law that created it and the state Supreme Court rules that govern it.

McGowan found that the circuit courts do not have the authority to review the operations of an agency controlled by the Supreme Court and that Perroni had not been harmed by any action of the commission, so he could not challenge its procedures.

Perroni is now appealing McGowan's decision to the state Supreme Court.

In his suit against the commission, Perroni accused it of exceeding its authority when it failed to sanction another judge about whom Perroni had complained: Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox.

In 2012, Perroni won a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the commission. In deciding that lawsuit, McGowan agreed with Perroni that the agency had to reveal the names of the commission members who had cleared Fox of the allegations Perroni had made against him.

State law shields the commission's investigation records from public disclosure, but those protections do not extend to the names of the commission members who hear complaints, McGowan ruled.

In the commission's announcement of the sanction against McGowan, the agency reported that McGowan had received all of the evidence and testimony she needed to decide Perroni's 2012 lawsuit by December 2014, but she did not issue her ruling for about 13 months.

In its letter, the disciplinary commission stated that it took into consideration how McGowan has improved since her 2008 reprimand.

Her acknowledgment of wrongdoing in the current case and her agreement to improve kept the commission from taking action to impose more serious sanctions on her, the letter said.

"Your willingness to accept that your actions were in violation of the Code [of Judicial Conduct] and your commitment to be more aware of the issues in the future, have led [the commission] to refrain from recommending a more serious sanction, public charges or a public disciplinary hearing in this case," the letter said.

Perroni's original litigation named the commission's executive director at the time, David Stewart. He was replaced as the defendant by his successor at the commission, David Sachar, when Stewart retired.

Metro on 11/19/2016

Print Headline: Judge gets reproach for tardy case ruling


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