Judge Jim O’Hern recently said in a web ad he should have received a commendation instead of a sanction after being found in a Little Rock hotel room with a woman in possession of methamphetamine. O’Hern removed the ad shortly after it was posted.
O’Hern, the judge since January 2017 in Fort Smith District Court, Division I, received a letter of admonishment in November 2018 from the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for the December 2016 incident in which he – as a judge-elect – was in a Little Rock hotel room with a woman in possession of methamphetamine. O’Hern and the woman were detained by police. O’Hern was released and the woman was eventually given three years of supervised probation and fined $500 and court costs.
“A judge should avoid being tethered to situations and people that can result in publicly embarrassing situations such as the one you were in on December 2, 2016,” noted a section of the sanction letter to which O’Hern agreed to accept. “You agree that an admonishment is the appropriate sanction for your actions in JDDC Case #16-375. Your willingness to accept that your actions were in violation of the Code and your commitment to be more aware of these issues in the future, have led the JDDC to refrain from recommending a more serious sanction, public charges, or a public disciplinary hearing in these cases.” (Link here for a PDF of the JDDC letter.)
But in the recent ad (posted below), O’Hern seemed to back away from accepting reasons for the sanction.
“Just by being there, I was called out for appearances and reprimanded by the committee that oversees judicial conduct,” he said in the ad. “I helped someone with a substance dependency problem that had been hidden from me. I should have been commended, as I helped someone through treatment.”
O’Hern told Talk Business & Politics the ad “was nothing more than a rebuttal to misleading information being spread about me through anonymous mailings to people who supported me.”
“I took down the piece to make sure that it was clear that I was not asking for a commendation from the JDDC, which they do not have jurisdiction to give, but that I felt that I was entitled to a commendation for helping someone become clean and sober. Because there may have been confusion over that, the piece was taken down until it could be clarified,” O’Hern said in an e-mail statement when asked why he pulled the ad.
O’Hern said he has not yet decided if or when to re-post a clarified ad about the incident.
David Sachar, executive director of the JDDC, would not comment about why the ad might have been taken down, but he did see it and said commendation was never discussed.
“I was aware of the video, and did in fact watch it. I can certainly state that commendation was never on the table after the agency investigation,” Sachar told Talk Business & Politics. “It was an agreed-to sanction that the judge (O’Hern) and his counsel entered into with the JDDC investigation panel.”
Sachar also would not talk about any possible violation by the ad of the terms of the November 2018 sanction.
“I prefer not to get into the details of our former investigation and sanction,” he said.
O’Hern faces Administrative Law Judge Amy Grimes in the March 3 election for the district court seat. Grimes provided the following response when asked about the “commendation” ad.
“Since announcing my campaign, I’ve been focused on meeting voters, listening to their issues and concerns and working toward making Fort Smith District Court, Division 1, more effective and efficient. My opponent will have to explain his conduct and the state’s disciplinary actions to the voters. It’s up to them to consider the character and ethics of the candidates in this race.”