Means committee meets on schedule


The Sentinel-Record   6-14-1977

Little Rock (AP) – The legislative committee investigating Judge Henry B. Means of Malvern will meet Wednesday, as scheduled, despite the request by the attorney general for a postponement.

Rep. W. F. “Bill” Foster of England, co-chairman of the Committee on Legislative Affairs, said a poll of committee members favored going ahead with this weeks session.

Foster said that although the attorney general’s office evidently would not be finished with the investigation by Wednesday, he had been told some witnesses could be available.

Atty. Gen. Bill Clinton had asked the committee to delay the taking of testimony in the Means case until July. He said his investigators needed more time.

The investigators are interviewing prospective witnesses, preparing information for consideration by the committee, and trying to work up a roster of witnesses to testify at the hearings.

The attorney general’s request also indicated that four days of hearings, rather than the two days scheduled for this week, might be necessary to complete the giving of testimony.

The request suggested it would be more appropriate to have a single hearing for witnesses pro and con, rather than to hear “accusatory” witnesses in one session and rebuttal witnesses later.

The committee’s meeting this week is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Foster said that, if necessary, the committee could meet again later to hear additional witnesses.

Means became controversial last year because he handed out light fines and probation to four drug case defendants who pleaded guilty and dismissed a charge against one who pleaded innocent.

Rep. William Clark of Sheridan and 13 others got the investigation rolling by asking the committee in a resolution to make a probe and submit recommendations to the legislature about whether Means should be ousted.

Clark said Monday that he did not share Clinton’s view on “accusatory” and rebuttal witnesses.

He said the members of the committee were “big boys, fairly intelligent,” who would be able to hear a witness and keep the testimony in perspective until the other side had been heard.

Some committee members, including Clark, were angered over a news article last week quoting Asst. Atty. Gen. John Fincher, who has been handling the investigation for Clinton’s office.

Fincher said he thought the action by Means in imposing light fines and probation and in dismissing the charge against one of the defendants was within a judge’s judicial discretion.

The exercise of such discretion, Fincher said, should not by itself be a basis for ousting a judge.

Some members of the committee thought Fincher meant to give his stamp of approval to everything Means did when he handled the cases. But Fincher said he meant his statement to refer only to the final disposition of the cases, not to any steps leading up to that disposition.

Clark said that in a meeting he had with Fincher prior to the news article “he made the same inference to me, and I was shocked, and I sort of tried to hint to him that his job was not to try to decide the case, but just to present the case and let the committee decide.”

Foster, Clark, and others connected with the committee’s work said they did not know who would testify. That is being left up to the attorney general’s office, they said.

Fincher was out of town Monday and unavailable for comment.

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