A judge recused himself Thursday from a lawsuit filed by victims of a former physician who pleaded guilty last year in Clark and Pike counties to sexually assaulting 31 children.
Clark County Circuit Judge Blake Batson, who gave no reason for his recusal, was the prosecuting attorney for Clark County in 2014, when Barry Alan Walker's niece, then a deputy prosecutor in Pike County, wrote to him disputing allegations made against her uncle by a 4-year-old girl.
The niece, Jana Bradford, in May 2022 was elected as prosecuting attorney for the Ninth West Judicial District, encompassing Pike, Howard, Little River and Sevier counties, and is among the defendants the lawsuit accuses of enabling Walker to continue his criminal behavior.
Walker was investigated, but not charged in 2014.
In June 2022, however, he was arrested on a litany of rape and child pornography charges.
In October 2022, he pleaded guilty to more than 100 charges, including various counts of rape and computer exploitation of a child, and was sentenced in Pike and Clark counties to a total of 39 life sentences for raping prepubescent girls for more than two decades.
Walker, now 59, had previously been convicted for sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl in 2000 and served nine months in prison. His medical license was revoked when his first criminal charges came to light.
Bradford, 54, knew of at least five criminal investigations of her uncle following his first stint in prison and yet she still tried to have her uncle removed from Arkansas' sex offender registry, according to the lawsuit.
An employee at Bradford's office did not forward a call from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to Bradford's desk phone on Thursday and told the reporter that Bradford was not commenting on the matter.
The 15 plaintiffs in the lawsuit say Walker, also a defendant in the suit, drugged and raped them on one or both of his properties in Amity in Clark County and Glenwood in Pike County.
The lawsuit says the defendants knew Barry Walker had been alone with underage girls on his property.
It says Bradford and other members of her family failed to report him to law enforcement while he was drugging, raping and taking photographic and video images of girls for years because of the legal ramifications it would have had on Bradford's political career.
An amendment this week to the civil complaint -- originally filed in October 2022 -- added the 15th plaintiff, a woman who has alleged that she was drugged and raped nine years ago by Walker while she was a child.
The criminal investigation is not closed. Three other people -- Bryce Walker, Brandy Cox and Lori Cogburn -- also have been charged. Bryce Walker is Barry Walker's brother, Cox is his niece, and Cogburn is his long-time girlfriend. The latter two have been charged with felony counts of permitting child abuse.
Bryce Walker, director of technology for the Hot Springs School District, is charged with a misdemeanor count of failure to notify by a mandated reporter.
All three are still awaiting trial.
Bryce Walker, Cox and Cogburn are also defendants in the Clark County lawsuit, along with Joyce Perser, who is Barry Walker's sister and Bradford's mother. Bradford and Perser have not been charged criminally.
Dan Turner, the prosecuting attorney in Clark County, said Thursday that the investigation remains open.
According to latest amendment to the lawsuit, Bradford and Bryce Walker were granted power of attorney over Barry Walker at the time of his 2000 conviction, at which time they obtained control over his financial assets, business transactions and health care decisions.
Following his nine-month prison stint, Barry Walker was recommended to undergo therapy and counseling and abstain from alcohol. He lapsed on all three, and as powers of attorney, Bryce Walker and Bradford realized this and did nothing, according to the lawsuit.
"They had the power to make his decisions for him and they didn't do anything to stop him from doing what he did," Texarkana attorney David Carter, who is representing the plaintiffs, said during a phone interview this week.
Erin Cassinelli, a Little Rock attorney representing Bradford in the case, said she plans to file a motion to dismiss in the next few days.
"Even a simple Google search makes clear that a power of attorney does not give a person control over another person's decisions," Cassinelli wrote in an email to the Democrat-Gazette.
As for the allegations that Bradford knew that her uncle was alone with underage girls on his property, Cassinelli called them "conclusions without factual support."
Authorities said Barry Walker started raping girls as early as 1997 and also sexually assaulted another girl while awaiting trial for his 1999 charge. Following his release from prison and while on probation, he continued to sexually abuse victims, detectives said.
The lawsuit refers to Bryce Walker, Perser, Cox, Cogburn and Bradford as the "Inner Circle Defendants" who got together on a regular basis to discuss family business and often met to discuss Barry Walker's behavior and sex offender status.
The complaint states that between 2001 and 2022, there were several reports made to law enforcement about Walker's "alleged maltreatment of prepubescent females."
The lawsuit lists five specific alleged incidents of child sexual abuse that it says the Inner Circle knew about. They occurred February 2004, May 2006, March 2010, May 2014 and July 2014 and the girls ranged in ages 3 to 9, according to court documents. Investigations were opened on all of them, Carter wrote in his complaint.
"In fact, [they] worked collectively to develop a strategy to protect and defend Barry Walker with respect to each of these investigations, especially the 2014 investigations because they knew a negative finding could harm the family's reputations as well as the family's business and political interests," the lawsuit states.
Walker was arrested following one of the 2014 allegations, but was not formally charged. It was while he was in jail that Bryce Walker, Perser and Bradford distributed payroll checks to the employees of Barry Walker's company, All Pro Contracting, to make sure the business kept running, according to court documents.
"While delivering the payroll checks, they learned that Barry Walker had in fact been alone with the [4-year-old] making the 2014 allegations against Barry Walker. However, [they] failed to inform investigators of this important fact."
This was also around the time that Bradford wrote a letter to Batson refuting the girl's allegations, according to court documents.
The lawsuit went on to state that Perser and Bradford, along with Bryce Walker, "collectively decided to launch a counter-attack upon a 4-year-old girl and her custodial parents simply because they had the courage to tell the truth about Barry Walker."
The Inner Circle Defendants worked to fight the accusations "with all their might" and as a result, no criminal charges were filed in 2014, Carter wrote in his complaint.
The lawsuit stated that Bradford's "audacious" behavior continued a few years later when she petitioned to have Walker removed from the registry of sex offenders.
In 2018, Walker was listed as a Level 1, or a low-risk, sex offender. Bradford noted that in her petition, pointing out that her uncle had never risen above a Level 1 at any point since his 2000 sentencing.
Instead of removing him from the registry, a reassessment was ordered and his status was changed to a moderate risk, or Level 2, according to court documents.
The lawsuit notes that in August 2004, Bradford submitted a request to then-Gov. Mike Huckabee to pardon Walker, but Huckabee denied the request.