Investigation starts after parking spot dispute

Davy Carter (left), a former Arkansas House speaker, and Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren are shown in this undated composite photo.

BENTONVILLE -- The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission will investigate a confrontation this weekend between a former state legislator and Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren, the commission's executive director said Monday.

Davy Carter, who served as speaker of the Arkansas House from 2013 to 2015, posted on Twitter his account of the incident his family had with Karren in a downtown parking spot behind the judge's courtroom.

David J. Sachar, commission executive director, said a panel will do the inquiry. He noted Karren has due process rights.

"I have no further comment at this time," he said.

Carter tweeted Saturday he and his wife had dinner Friday at The Hive restaurant in the 21C Museum Hotel. They called their son, a student at the University of Arkansas to join them.

Carter's son arrived a little after 7 p.m. and parked in the lot next to the hotel at 200 N.E. A St., according to Carter's tweets. The lot also serves as parking for Karren, his staff and county employees.

A sign at the lot entrance states "Benton County employee parking only, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m." The sign does not state specific days. However, a sign in front of the spot where Carter's son parked states, "Reserved parking 24/7 violators towed."

Carter's son and wife left the restaurant about 30 seconds before he did, according to Carter. He said he walked out and found an angry Karren berating his wife and son.

Carter said on Twitter he intervened and cursed at Karren. A short portion of the encounter was recorded, and Carter posted it on his Twitter account.

The exchange ends with Karren, who was armed with a gun, throwing his cane to the ground as he faced Carter. Kevin Trevathan, Karren's bailiff, stepped between the two men.

Carter said Sunday he would have no further comment. Karren declined comment.

Carter, 46, served in the Legislature from 2009 to 2015 as a Republican from Cabot. He now lives in Jonesboro.

Karren, 58, is the administrative judge for Benton County's seven circuit judges. He presides over criminal cases. He was first elected to the position in 2012. He began a new, six-year term in January.

The Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission issued a letter of reprimand against Karren in April 2012 when he was Rogers District Court judge. The reprimand said the judge gave special treatment to an employee and interfered in a case of a rape suspect whose father was Karren's client before he became a judge.

Karren also made news in November 2019 when he sentenced a television reporter to 10 days in jail -- with seven days suspended -- for violating his prohibition against recording court proceedings during murder cases. Karren later ordered the journalist to be released after she had served a few hours of her sentence.

Bryan Beeson, Benton County facilities administrator, said signs designating four spots against the wall of Karren's Division II courthouse as reserved at all times went up last fall after parts of the building were renovated.

Karren asked for the signs because he sometimes works late at night and on weekends, Beeson said. The four designated spaces also are where the cameras and lighting are directed for added security, he said.

The rest of the small north parking lot behind Karren's courtroom holds another six spaces, Beeson said.

Beeson said the county parking spaces, except for the four reserved spots, are open to the public after 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and on weekends.

Possible action

The Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission could issue a dismissal of the complaint. The commission may make an informal adjustment (such as direct professional counseling or assistance for the judge), issue a public admonishment, reprimand or censure the judge. The commission will make a recommendation to the Arkansas Supreme Court if it finds stronger action is needed, and the Court may impose suspension, removal or involuntarily retirement.

Source: Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission