‘Just a tired old man,’ Means’ thinking reason for decision


The Sentinel-Record   9-4-1977

Little Rock (AP) – “When it came down to it, I think the committee could see that he was not a criminal, he was just an old man, a tired old man,” said Rep. Doug Wood of Sherwood.

He spoke of Judge Henry B. Means of Malvern.

The idea that Means’ thinking was out of date, but not a matter of willful wrongdoing, was a major reason for a decision not to push for procedures to remove him form office, Wood said.

The Committee on Legislative Affairs made the decision, but did declare that in its judgement Means had committed “gross indiscretions” in two areas. Means disputed both conclusions, which were.

The judge had engaged in law practice in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the state Constitution when he prepared legal opinions on whether titles to properties were valid.

The judge had engaged in plea bargaining in violation of Rule 25 in the Rules of Criminal Procedure when he told two lawyers what sentence he would impose if their clients pleaded guilty.

Past violations did not constitute grounds for seeking Means’ removal, the committee said, but such conduct would constitute removal grounds if he ignored the committee’s warning.

Wood defended the committee verdict.

He said he thought it had, for practical purposes, ended Means’ judicial career, unless the judge could convince voters to re-elect him, despite what had been disclosed.

“I think he ought to retire and I hope that’s what he’ll do,” Wood said.

Means is judge of the 7th Judicial Circuit, which includes Hot Spring, Saline, and Grant counties. He has been judge 19 years, and, earlier was a prosecutor.

As the only lawyer on the 27 member committee when the verdict was reached, Wood was one of the few committee members who understood the legal technicalities which were at issue at many points.

He said in an interview that the plea bargaining violation did not seem to warrant removal because Means simply had continued to give the kind of information he always had given.

“The new rule against plea bargaining did not take effect until Jan. 1, 1976, but the judge had been a judge for 19 years,” Wood said. “It was kind of hard for him to change.

“He just continued to go on as he had before. “He was well set in his ways.

“Maybe he has not adapted to the decade of the 70’s, but is that enough to remove him from office – he was doing something he had always done all his life, and had been reelected for it.”

The issue of Means’ plea bargaining role arose in connection with five drug cases which he handled last Nov. 18.

The judge maintained that he did he did not engage in plea bargaining, but advised a lawyer what sentence he would impose on a drug case defendant, if the defendant pleaded guilty.

However, Means also told the lawyer the same arrangement would apply to the other defendants.

Means said that was different from plea bargaining. He said that in some circumstances a judge must be able to talk to lawyers about such things before the case comes to court.

But, Wood said, the judge should not even answer a lawyer’s question about what sentence would be imposed.

To answer, he said, would open the door to discussion and negotiation. Lawyers, and their clients, will have to wait until they get to court to get into such things, he said.

Were it to be otherwise, Wood said, such question and answer occasions allow a defense attorney and his client the advantage of “knowing what your cards are going to be before you get your hand.”

“The point of the jurisprudence system is this: If he’s guilty, let him plead guilty. But if he’s not guilty, let him plead not guilty, and take his chances in court,” Wood said.

He said the committee’s action, in effect, sent a message to all judges about how at least one legislative body views the questions of law practice and plea bargaining.

If any other judges have conduct like that of Means, they have been given fair notice that some legislative disapproval could be expressed, and that a committee investigative framework has been set up and could be used again.

Furthermore, Wood said, some legislation may develop, but that would be in the Judiciary Committee jurisdiction.

He said he hoped there might be a bill to clear up the matter of outside law practice by a judge. Such a bill could declare that the definition of law practice would include, but not be limited to, certain particular acts, including the preparation of title opinions.

Even though, the Committee on Legislative Affairs did not have many lawyers (it had two when the probe began), nor was it assigned to the judicial area, this committee probably was the proper committee for this work, Wood said.

“After all, on of the issues was whether the legislature itself would be asked to render a verdict on Means by way of legislative impeachment or legislative address. I think it was the right committee,” he said.

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