The Arkansas Supreme Court stripped Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio of his court docket in an unprecedented order Monday.
The order, signed by Chief Justice Jim Hannah, says the Supreme Court has been advised operations in Maggio’s court, 20th Judicial District, Division 2, have been disrupted and that administration of justice has been "severely compromised," due in part to recusal issues.
Public calls for Maggio’s resignation have been made this month after he admitted to making questionable comments on an LSU fan forum website about women, race and sexual orientation. The comments under pseudonym "geauxjudge" also alluded to celebrity actress Charlize Theron’s closed adoption proceedings in Faulkner County.
Taking away Maggio’s case load does not remove him from the bench, said Stephanie Harris, Supreme Court communications counsel.
But any cases in his court will be heard by another judge, as well as any case that is filed in the division while the order is in effect.
Maggio, whose salary is $138,981, is not working this week, according to the Faulkner County Clerk’s office.
Harris said the order is effective immediately, and a special judge or judges from outside the district will be assigned Maggio’s cases, or his case load will be absorbed by other divisions.
Harris said Justice Hannah did not disclose recusals in Maggio’s cases, but said it was "such a disruption that it’s interfering with the administration of justice."
She said this is not the first time the Supreme Court has issued an order to assign a special judge or judges, but it has usually been due to a judge’s illness or other situation that has caused an extended absence from the bench.
"I would call this unprecedented," she said.
Maggio has had several busy days in court since he admitted to making the website postings that prompted an investigation by the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.
He’s had a couple of courtroom days since the JDDC confirmed a second investigation into the judge that focuses on "general allegations concerning campaign contributions" to Maggio’s since-dropped race for the Court of Appeals.
Maggio left the Court of Appeals race after admitting to the website postings, and shortly thereafter the Log Cabin Democrat and other media brought it to light that Maggio greatly reduced a jury’s award to the family of a nursing home negligence victim from $5.2 million to $1 million, ruling in favor of a defendant who would later contribute to his Court of Appeals campaign.
Maggio’s campaign finance reports include contributions from political action committees that were formed with contributions from the corporations of the defendant, Michael Morton, the day Maggio heard the defense motion to reduce the defendant’s payout, bringing the ruling into question.
Maggio’s records also show an excess of contributions from Morton’s corporations.
Morton, of Fort Smith, claims financial interest in about 50 nursing home related corporations in the south.
Third Division Judge Charles Clawson said Monday he is acting as the District’s administrative judge, formerly Maggio’s role, and he and the other division judges except for Maggio will meet Tuesday morning to discuss how to handle the Supreme Court’s order while minimizing adverse effects on litigants, attorneys, victims and other parties involved in Maggio’s current cases.
Clawson said Maggio’s is primarily a criminal docket.
"At this point until I talk to them I can’t give specifics…We are in position to discuss it and will do something soon to minimize the effect on the courts," Clawson said.
Maggio was set to preside over at least one other open status case involving Salem Place Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Inc., another of Morton’s properties.
The case’s plaintiffs include a resident whose family alleges he suffered injury due to negligence by the facility and its administrators.
The case was filed in August of last year but has been continued.
It was in July of 2013 that Maggio ruled in favor of Morton’s defense in the case of Martha Bull, who died at Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236, or on Twitter @Courtneyism. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)