After first day: Means’ hearing indecisive


The Sentinel-Record   7-26-1977

Little Rock  – Witnesses disagreed Monday over whether Judge Henry B. Means of Malvern broke a rule barring judges from participating in plea discussions.

Atty. Gen. Bill Clinton elicited testimony suggesting such a violation might have occurred but two lawyers who testified disagreed.

They said Means did not engage in any discussion aimed at reaching an agreement, but merely informed the lawyers what sentence he would impose after they inquired what he would do if and when their clients pleaded guilty.

The dissenting lawyers – Sen. Harold King of Sheridan and Bill Murphy of Sheridan – represented some of the defendants in a controversial drug case which ignited the Means controversy Nov. 18.

The lawyers testified after Clinton also had introduced information showing the canon of ethics for lawyers says they should not engage in plea discussions unless the opposing side is involved.

Pros. Atty. John Cole of Sheridan already had testified that he was not party to any discussions which led to any plea agreement.

Means handed out fines and probation to four defendants, who pleaded guilty, and he dismissed the charge against the fifth, who pleaded innocent. Cole was cited for contempt of court for protesting.

That led to a resolution by Rep. Bill Clark of of Sheridan asking the legislature’s Committee on Legislative Affairs to hold hearings and decide whether to recommend that Means be removed from office.

The testimony Monday – eight people testified for six hours – was the first testimony taken by the committee.

Much of the testimony was confusion and marred by memory lapses as well as differences over how to interpret the rule prohibiting judges from engaging in plea discussions.

The rule is a part of the criminal procedures adopted by the state Supreme Court, effective Jan. 1, 1976, to govern the conduct of criminal cases in Arkansas courts.

King and Murphy said there was no violation of lawyer canons or the criminal procedures rule on judges if an attorney merely asked what sentence the judge would give to a client who pleaded guilty. A violation would develop if the lawyer and the judge began to argue whether the proposed sentence should be lightened, they testified.

Cole said that prior to Jan. 1, 1976, there was no restraint to keep lawyers and judges from discussing the potential disposition of a case. He said he himself had done it as a defense attorney.

But he agreed with Clinton that the language of the rule was clear and that the Supreme Court obviously intended for the practice after Jan. 1, 1976, to be different from the way it had been.

That did not occur right away in Means’ 7th Judicial District, Cole said. He said it stopped, so far as he knew, after the contrversy erupted last November.

Cole also testified that he heard in a telephone conference call about an agreement to give fines and probation to most or all of the defendants.

He said the call involved Means and another of the defense lawyers. Clinton did not ask Cole whether he made it clear during the call that he objected to the agreement.

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