LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Former drug court judge Mary Ann Gunn, who now presides over an oft-criticized TV show that features recovering addicts, has agreed to never again serve in the state judiciary, the Arkansas panel that disciplines judges announced Friday.
A letter released by the Judicial and Disability Commission says the panel dropped three complaints against Gunn as part of the agreement. Two were filed while Gunn was still on the bench and one was filed after she left earlier this year to devote her time to "Last Shot with Judge Gunn."
The panel does not release details about complaints that have not had a public hearing.
Separately, Fayetteville attorney W.H. Taylor sued last month on behalf of three drug court defendants, claiming Gunn or her staff removed case files and video recordings from the court so they could be used as part of her show.
While in office, Gunn telecast her drug court proceedings on public-access television in northwest Arkansas as she handled cases from Madison and Washington counties. The practice drew complaints from defendants who felt coerced into appearing on camera, according to Taylor’s suit.
The Washington County Clerk’s Office says the targets of Taylor’s suit, filed Oct. 20, have not filed responses.
Drug courts offer defendants a chance to go through treatment and have their records wiped clean if they stay out of trouble. In July, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued an opinion disallowing video coverage of such proceedings, saying there was "a real risk" of harm in having the appearances recorded.
"An individual who has successfully completed drug court and had his or her charges expunged could at some time in the future be faced with the embarrassment of some sort of public airing of the recording," the court wrote.
Calls for comment to Taylor and Gunn’s attorney, Blake Hendrix of Little Rock, weren’t returned Friday. Show distributor Trifecta Entertainment & Media had no comment and would not make Gunn available for an interview. Gunn doesn’t have a listed phone number.
The National Association of Drug Court Professionals denounced Gunn’s show in September, saying the show was confusing to the public because "defendants" were not in an official court situation, even though the show creates that impression.
The show has rented a Washington County courtroom for $1,000 a day for taping.
In August 2010, the Arkansas Supreme Court Judicial Ethics Committee condemned Gunn in a nonbinding opinion issued after she requested ethical guidance regarding her broadcasts on local cable.
"It may appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity or impartiality," the committee wrote.
More specifically, the committee questioned the potential effect on the judgment of a judge who is "broadcasting people in their most unfortunate times."
Gunn told the Northwest Arkansas Times in September that the show illustrates the good outcomes generated by drug courts.
"Certainly the message is that drug courts are very successful and (a) viable alternative to prisons," Gunn told the Times.
Taylor’s lawsuit names Trifecta Entertainment, Battaglia Productions, Caravan Entertainment and individuals associated with those companies. The suit accuses Gunn or her courthouse staff of removing files "in bad faith" in June, just before Gunn resigned to do her show.
The three people represented by Taylor, William Garrison, Joshua K. Thompson and Sharina Watkins, were before Gunn when her court proceedings were telecast on local Jones T.V., a station that has since disbanded.
"The plaintiffs certainly did not understand or appreciate that any recording of them made while they were participants (in Gunn’s state drug court) would be subject to use by a television production company for commercial gain," the suit states.
The suit seeks an order returning all records and copies held by the show and placing them under seal.
A listed phone number for Caravan Entertainment was disconnected. Battaglia Productions didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment, and no listed number for the company could be located.