Report advises circuit judge's removal
BY GINNY LAROE ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
A disciplinary panel has recommended that a Helena-West Helena judge be removed from the bench after finding he acted as an attorney while serving as a judge.
Circuit Judge L.T. Simes controlled a family's estate after taking the bench in the 1st Judicial District, which includes six Delta counties. That violated several rules governing judicial conduct, a three-member panel found in a report issued Friday.
The recommendation now goes to the full panel of the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission. If the commission finds he should be removed from office, the matter will go before the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Simes, 58, became administrator of the Quincy Chandler estate in 1974. Despite his misgivings about staying on after taking the bench in 1997, he continued collecting money associated with rental properties and legal fees, the report says.
He was discharged from handling the estate in 2004 only after a court order, the report says.
Simes made no effort to appropriately handle the rentalproperty money, took no steps to remove himself from the dealings and provided no accounting of the estate's finances despite a judge's order to do so in 2004, the report says.
The amount of money Simes collected from the rental properties remains in dispute, but he paid some $24,138 to the estate upon the order of a special judge in 2005. Simes' actions were violations of rules that: Restrict a presiding judge from practicing law or appearing as counsel in any court in the state. Mandate judges to avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety. Restrict judges from serving in a fiduciary capacity. Simes did not return calls to his home or office.
A woman who identified herself only as his wife said: "I always believed that there was some justice in our system, and now I realize there's not."
"It's racism," she said, without elaborating.
Simes' attorney, George Hairston of New York, suggested during an earlier hearing that the panel was biased and that Simes couldn't get a fair shake.
Simes told members of the panel that he was fired by the Chandler family in 1990 and that he unsuccessfully tried to remove himself as its attorney and estate administrator.
His explanations are a "misstatement of material fact," the report says. It demonstrates a "fundamental lack of knowledge of substantive law and the obligations of a Circuit judge," the report says.
This is not Simes' first set of troubles at the commission. Two dozen complaints have been lodged against him since 2004, the most against any judge in that time frame, officials have said.
While some charges were dismissed, three cases resulted in sanctions. The charges were for not handling a case swiftly, for producing gospel music with a picture of himself in a judge's robe on CD covers and for soliciting campaign contributions from lawyers who practiced before him.
Two other complaints are pending, said David Sachar, the commission's deputy executive director. The cases involve allegations that he improperly pressured the Helena-West Helena mayor to reinstate a fired police chief and that he instructed a newspaper reporter not to write an article.
The commission has not set a hearing date for those matters.
This is the first time since at least July 2007 that a commission panel has recommended removing a judge from office, said David Stewart, the commission's executive director.
He declined to discuss the panel's findings, saying it would be "premature" since a final decision has not been made.
Simes has 20 days to object to the report. He was provided with a copy Friday.
The full panel — composed of lawyers, judges and community members — will meet in private to discuss the case. If the panel recommends something short of suspension or removal from office, that decision is final.
Serving on the three-member panel were Fayetteville Circuit Judge William Storey, attorney John C. Everett of Fayetteville and the Rev. Maxine Allen of Little Rock.
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Honorable James F. Valley
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