Pope County judge accused of improper behavior announces retirement after facing more complaints

Great Seal of Arkansas in a court room in Washington County. Thursday, June 21, 2018,
Great Seal of Arkansas in a court room in Washington County. Thursday, June 21, 2018,

District Court Judge Don Bourne’s retirement will come after the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission received more complaints against him and moved to reinstate a 75-day portion of his remaining suspension, according to a news release from the commission. His retirement will be effective Saturday.

When the commission acknowledged Bourne’s retirement Tuesday, it was investigating five complaints he had received since he returned to the bench following a 15-day unpaid suspension last year. Some of the new complaints came just days after he returned to court, said David Sachar, executive director of the commission.

“The public should be treated with dignity, patience, and courtesy when they appear in front of a judge,” Sachar said in an emailed statement. “This increases the public’s confidence in the justice system. Proper judicial demeanor is not an afterthought – it is a necessary quality for a judge to fulfill their oath to the people of the State of Arkansas.”

While Sachar said allegations against judges are generally confidential, he confirmed that the most recent complaints were similar to the ones that led to Bourne’s orginal suspension.

Earlier complaints accused Bourne of making derogatory comments to defendants and failing to appoint defense attorneys for those who could not afford legal counsel.

A letter of censure issued by Sachar in August claimed Bourne “had a pattern of injudicious conduct towards defendants” that included making negative comments about their appearance, residency and ethnicity.

Sachar claimed in his letter that Bourne had told Spanish-speaking defendants they needed to learn English if they were going to live in Pope County. Bourne also allegedly commented on the hairstyle of defendants and disparaged defendants who were not from Pope County, according to the letter.

The commission found Bourne once told a defendant, “[i]f you were a good employee, you wouldn’t have been laid off. Go get a job and get that crap out of your eyebrows.”

The Arkansas Supreme Court suspended Bourne in August and barred him from holding judicial office after he finished serving his term, which was set to expire at the end of 2024.

Before the ruling, Bourne agreed the sanction recommended by the commission were proper, and he committed to remediation measures.

Most of Bourne’s 90-day suspension – 75 days – was held in abeyance for one year given that Bourne followed the remedial measures required by the court. The measures included but weren’t limited to:

•Observing other district court sessions during his suspension and writing reports on the proceedings.

•Providing the commission with full access to his courtroom, records and staff.

•Obtaining a digital-audio recorder for his courtroom by the time he returned from his suspension.

•Attending an online class on judicial ethics.

After Bourne announced he was stepping down from his position, all complaints against him will be dismissed, the commission said in its news release.

Bourne could not be reached at his chambers on Tuesday afternoon.

Information for this article was contributed by Bill Bowden of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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