Inquiry to begin: Should Judge Means be removed


The Sentinel-Record 5-19-1977
Associated Press

Little Rock – The Committee on Legislative Affairs got organized Wednesday for its inquiry into whether Judge Henry B. Means of Malvern should be removed from office.

The committee decided to try to start taking testimony in the controversy next month, probably around June 15-16. A decision will be made in the next couple of weeks about who see [unintelligible].

Means, 56, judge of the 7th Judicial Circuit since Jan. 1, 1959, did not attend the meeting. It was not clear whether he would be asked to testify next month or at any time in the proceedings.

The committee adopted 36 rules to govern the hearings and adopted a resolution asking the Legislative Council for funds to hire a court reporter, pay witness fees, and cover subpoena costs.

Marcus Halbrook, director of the council, said he thought about $3,000 would cover the costs of the process.

Attny. Gen. Bill Clinton and Asst. Attny. Gen. John Fincher, who drafted the procedural rules, were formerly designated as the legal staff for the committee.

Fincher and the committee cochairmen, Rep. William F. Foster of England and Sen. Jim Caldwell of Rogers, will confer among themselves and with others to decide who will testify next month.

Means had been invited to address the committee’s organizational meeting. He was represented by Ted Boswell of Little Rock and Bryant, but Boswell said nothing to the committee.

Cliff Jackson of Little Rock, the lawyer for a group of 7th Judicial Circuit residents who hope Means will be ousted, also was invited. He attended, but he was asked not to address the meeting.

[unintelligible] on. The committee members talked about the rules nearly two hours before adopting them.

After them meeting, Boswell told newsmen and some committee members he thought he ought to be allowed to cross-examine witnesses who present testimony against Means.

Under the rules adopted the committee, on the committee’s legal staff, and members of the committee itself, would do the questioning.

The 36 rules were among 37 which had been drafted by Clinton and Fincher. The committee dumped one which would have banned the taking of pictures by news organizations when a witness was testifying.

Some of the rules would allow the committee to go into executive session to hear witnesses.

The rules on closed sessions might be in order, some committee members said, since they did not know whether a witness would be subject to a libel suit for what he might say to the committee.

Clinton said he thought there was a real legal question about whether the committee could give anyone immunity from a civil suit for damages based on libel.

The attorney general declined to recommend whether the committee should adopt the rules on closed hearings, but he said his legal opinion was that the committee clearly had authority to hold closed hearings.

The state Constitution provides that the business of the legislature should be conducted in public except when the subject matter “ought to be in secret.” By analogy, Clinton said, the same standard would apply to committees of the legislature.

The rules also authorized Clinton and Fincher to interview witnesses in advance of their appearance before the committee. Clinton said this was the same procedure followed by the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C.. during the Nixon impeachment inquiry which came in the wake of the Watergate burglary.

Although the committee gave the rules lengthy consideration, there may be some changes. Boswell said later he wanted the the right to individually cross-examine each witness who testified against Means. Jackson told newsmen he thought Boswell ought to have that right. The rules provided for witnesses to be question [unintelligible] the committee.

Witnesses would testify under oath or affirmation. Any lie told to the committee would be a perjury offense subject to prosecution in the courts.

After the committee meeting Wednesday, Fincher told newsmen he did not know whether Means would be asked to testify next month and did not know yet whether it would be appropriate for him to testify ever.

Jackson said he thought Means should be asked to testify at some point in the hearings. he called Means the key figure in the controversy. Jackson himself also expects to testify in the case. O. E. Fiser of Sheridan, chairman of the Concerned Citizens for Justice, also may testify. His group opposes Means.

Boswell said he had no comment on whether Means should testify because he had doubts about whether the committee had the legal authority to even be engaging in such hearings.

The controversy over Means developed last year when he gave light fines and probation to four men who pleaded guilty to charges of possession illegal drugs with the intention of delivering them. A charge against a fifth man in that case was dismissed after the man pleaded innocent.

Boswell said that when Means took those actions he was engaging in a lawful exercise of the judicial discretion possessed by every jurist. By being the target of a committee hearing, Means was in effect accused without being advised of the charge against him or the identity of the accuser, Boswell said.

Clinton said he thought the committee did have the legal right to engage in such hearings as a fact-finder in connection with a removal process.

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