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Arkansas judge pleads guilty in DWI case; panel to decide discipline

by Dave Hughes | April 19, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission is determining how to discipline Circuit Judge William Pearson after he pleaded guilty Monday in Johnson County to charges of driving while intoxicated and reckless driving.

What punishment the commission decides to give Pearson will determine if or how soon he can return to the bench as a judge in Arkansas' 5th Judicial Circuit, which is comprised of Franklin, Johnson and Pope counties.

Executive Director David Sachar said Tuesday the commission will act quickly to determine how to sanction Pearson for violating ethical canons by breaking state law. The commission could admonish, reprimand or censure him or pass on a recommendation to the Arkansas Supreme Court for some other action, Sachar said.

On a petition from the commission, the Arkansas Supreme Court suspended Pearson with pay from the bench.

Circuit court records show Pearson, 57, entered guilty pleas to the two misdemeanor charges before special Circuit Judge John Langston. As part of a negotiated plea, charges of misdemeanor fleeing and refusal to submit to a breath test, a violation, were dismissed.

The sentencing order said Langston suspended imposition of a sentence for six months and ordered Pearson to pay $1,020 in fines, fees and court costs. Pearson also was ordered to pay $1,829.24 restitution to the Arkansas State Police for damage caused to a state police car the night Pearson was arrested, according to his Little Rock attorney Jeff Rosenzweig.

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As part of his sentence on the reckless driving charge, Pearson was ordered to serve five days in jail. Rosenzweig said Pearson will serve one of the five days working in the Johnson County jail on a day when the state police run a sobriety checkpoint.

Pearson will serve the other four days giving speeches to young people about the dangers of drinking and driving, Rosenzweig said. He said it would mirror a statement Pearson made to Langston before he entered his pleas.

"I make no excuses for my actions," Pearson said in the prepared statement. "I never considered myself above the law then or now. I simply should have known better not to drink and drive intoxicated. The shame and embarrassment is mine."

Pearson, 57, has served since 2008 as a judge in the 5th Judicial Circuit. The Supreme Court issued a suspension order Jan. 26, almost a week after Pearson was arrested Jan. 20.

State police records state Pearson was driving north on Crawford Street south of Clarksville in Johnson County and went through the state police sobriety checkpoint without stopping about 9:30 p.m. Jan. 20.

Pearson said in his statement to police that he thought the gathering of patrol cars on the side of the road with their strobe lights flashing was for a traffic stop or an accident. Rosenzweig said Pearson's intoxication contributed to his misinterpreting the reason for the police presence.

Troopers gave chase with their lights and sirens on while Pearson continued driving north into Clarksville. At one point, he turned into a parking lot. A trooper followed him and pushed against the back of Pearson's pickup in an attempt to stop it as the truck continued. The pickup finally came to a stop against the front of the trooper's car.

A trooper wrote in a report that Pearson was so drunk he slumped to the ground as troopers got him out of the pickup. Later at the Johnson County sheriff's office, Pearson became sick, lost bladder control and was uncooperative during the fingerprinting process. He was too drunk to take a test for his blood alcohol level, according to the report.

In his statement, Pearson apologized to 5th Judicial Circuit Judges Gordon McCain, Dennis Sutterfield and Ken Coker and other special judges who took over his caseload after he was suspended.

He also apologized to residents of the circuit's three counties for his "isolated lapse of judgment," to his staff, his family and to the judges in the state and the bar association.

"I regret my actions of January 20 and look forward to redemption and making amends for this and assure all that this will never ever happen again," he concluded.

State Desk on 04/19/2017

Print Headline: Judge pleads guilty in DWI case; panel to decide discipline


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