LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Judicial Discipline and Disability (JDDC) filings at the Supreme Court allude to a third-party proceeding that the Commission was waiting to be resolved, which supports the information and documentation Fox16 received indicating Judge Wade Naramore is currently fighting being placed on the Child Maltreatment Registry following his son's hot car death.
The JDDC, following the Supreme Court's orders, submitted its redacted filings regarding the Naramore case. Links to the filings can be found at the bottom of this story.
The Supreme Court paved the way for Circuit Judge Wade Naramore to return to the bench in a ruling on Thursday. He had been suspended with pay since February 2016, when he was arrested and charged with negligent homicide in his son's hot car death. Naramore was acquitted of the charge by a jury in August.
However, court filings in the criminal case and court filings by Naramore's attorneys in Pulaski County Circuit Court indicate that Naramore is currently appealing a finding that he be placed on the Child Maltreatment Registry. Fox16 has documentation that shows Crimes Against Children Investigators concluded that a true finding should be entered regarding the Child Maltreatment Investigation.
Based on filings by Naramore's attorneys, an administrative law judge upheld those findings on appeal. At least one Pulaski County Circuit judge recused from Naramore's appeal, and the case number no longer appears in the docket for Pulaski County.
As we reported yesterday, it's unclear if a judge on the Child Maltreatment Registry for violating the Child Maltreatment laws is eligible to be on the bench. Department of Human Services' spokesperson, Amy Webb, told us that the agency was unaware of any law that lists members of the judiciary or legal fields explicitly as being affected by being placed on the registry.
In the JDDC filing, following a large section of redactions it reads, "On November 21, 2016, Mr. Benca forwarded the [redaction]..." [redaction] "that led to the Investigation Panel asking the JDDC staff for more information, legal research, and whether they should consider a vote on probable cause to file formal charges against the judge for...[redactions]."
According to a filing in the Circuit Court, with the name redacted, Erin Cassinelli and Patrick Benca (Naramore's attorneys) filed an appeal of an administrative judge's opinion to place their client on the registry. That decision, according to the appeal, was rendered on November 21, 2016, the same day Mr. Benca forwarded something to the JDDC.
Furthermore, a recusal filed by Circuit Judge Alice Gray, with the same case number, lists the initials of the petitioner as “W.N.”
The JDDC finding goes on to say that the Deputy Director "did extensive research on the issue and was prepared to present what little guidance was found to the Panel, before they made a final vote."
Fox16 has been unable to find any cases in any other state that deals with a judge serving on the bench after being placed on the Child Maltreatment Registry or a comparable situation.
The filing by the JDDC, confirms it is an unprecedented situation.
Conversations between Sachar and Benca occurred after "Counsel was encouraged to wait until [redaction] so there was hopefully a clearer issue or no issue at all. There is no precedent in any jurisdiction concerning findings like those in Paragraph 6 (above/redacted) and whether a judge [redacted] is a violation of Rule 1.1 (A judge shall comply with the law, including the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct), Rule 1.2 (Promoting Confidence in the Judiciary; also noting that Comment 5 to the Rule states, in part, The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge's ... fitness to serve as a judge).
We reached out to Naramore's attorneys regarding this situation. They have yet to return our request for comment regarding Naramore's return to office or the Child Maltreatment Registry issue. According to Executive Director of the JDDC, David Sachar, the disciplinary proceedings against Naramore will proceed until the Investigation Panel takes a vote to charge him, caution him or dismiss the case.
Sachar said he could not comment further on a pending case.
The Supreme Court's ruling may put the JDDC in a difficult situation. If the JDDC was waiting to determine whether Naramore would remain on the Child Maltreatment Registry, which the Supreme Court was aware of, then the justices on the court have essentially ruled on what the panel was considering. Had the panel charged and sanctioned Naramore, he would ultimately appeal to the Supreme Court.
Naramore, according to the Supreme Court’s order, will not return to the bench to hear dependency-neglect cases. The administrative law judge in Garland County will be tasked with sorting out and re-arranging the docket there. He has returned to administrative and staff supervision duties immediately.
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