Conflict fears stir 2 recusals in ethics cases

Judicial regulators said Tuesday that they plan to hire independent attorneys to oversee Judge Wendell Griffen’s ethics complaint against the Arkansas Supreme Court, as well as ethics complaints the high court has made against the judge.

The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission is the constitutionally created agency responsible for investigating all misconduct complaints against state judges, but executive director David Sachar and his deputy, Emily White, said in a news release that they are recusing themselves from the competing complaints.

Sachar and White are recusing on the advice of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Howard Brill, the news release stated.

In a three-page letter, also released by the commission, Brill wrote that Sachar and White face potential ethical conflicts if they conduct the investigation themselves.

“It is my belief that both of you are caught in an unacceptable dilemma with these competing allegations. Unique circumstances are present in this situation,” the former chief justice wrote.

“Accordingly, I believe that the commission, and indeed the state, would be best served if both withdrew from any major role in the investigation or prosecution of any charges arising from either of these referrals.”

Brill, a recognized authority on legal ethics, is an Arkansas law professor. He was chief justice until January, having served 16 months as Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s appointee to finish the term of Jim Hannah. Hannah, who was chief justice about 10 years, retired for health reasons in August 2015 and died in January 2016.

Dan Kemp was elected chief justice in November.

The only two full-time attorneys on the commission staff, Sachar and White did not say who would select the outside lawyers for the Griffen cross-claims or how they would be paid.

For 2017, the commission reports that it has a budget of $690,343, with about 70 percent of that appropriation, $481,753, paying the salaries…

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