The state commission that disciplines judges announced Thursday the filing of formal charges against Monticello District Court Judge Ken Harper. It is alleged that Harper is subject to sanctions for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, for willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and habitual intemperance in the use of alcohol or other drugs.
Harper was censured with remedial requirements in 2011 but failed to respond to a May 30, 2012 compliance check to acknowledge that he was complying with the requirements of the censure.
Additionally, the panel has received information that Harper has broken the terms of his agreed censure by drinking alcohol and being intoxicated in public, according to a September 20 news release from the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.
He was reported to have been seen by a law enforcement officer exiting the Pine Hill Liquor Store, while another witness indicated that he was seen exiting the same liquor store with a package several month ago, and others have given statements about Harper being drunk at family and public events, according to the news release.
Harper, according to the news release, allowed an unlicensed driver, Charles McKinley, to operate his vehicle which was stopped by a State Trooper. In the vehicle was two bottles of liquor that McKinley had recently purchased. A video of the incident shows McKinley talking on the phone with someone he indicated was Judge Harper. McKinley made statements about the judge wanting to speak to the trooper.
Alleged violations from that incident include: the judge (allegedly) allowing his vehicle to be used by a driver who is known not to have a driver’s license or liability insurance, sending McKinley to get alcohol for him to hide the judge’s drinking, attempting to interfere with a State Trooper who is executing a traffic stop on a driver who is using Harper’s vehicle, and associating with a known felon. McKinley has multiple felony convictions including rape, delivery of cocaine, second-degree forgery, and attempted burglary, as well as DWI and misdemeanor offenses. McKinley listed Ken Harper as his employer on a 2005 pleading.
The panel also received information about the following allegations:
“The judge has moved in with a female friend who has been convicted for theft of property in Pulaski County. Additionally, this friend has been convicted during 2012 of multiple traffic and criminal offenses with Harper having been the judge on the cases in Drew County. These include DWI, theft by deception, disorderly conduct and possession of a controlled substance. She has an outstanding balance due of over $1,500 in fines and has already paid $4,500 in fines to Harper’s District Court.
“The judge has allowed convicted felon, Charles McKinley, to continue to use his jeep even though McKinley does not have a valid drivers license. Recently, police officers observed McKinley pick up the judge’s female friend in Harper’s vehicle.
“On September 7, three officers were called to an incident at Harper’s home involving an accident where part of a fence was knocked down due to an unknown cause. Officers have provided statements that they had contact with Ken Harper while investigating the incident. He was described as having ‘slurred speech’, being ‘intoxicated to the point that he didn’t need to be driving or out in public’, having extremely bloodshot… red and glassy/watery eyes,’…”
The allegations are such a serious nature that, if proven, could result in public discipline up to and including removal from office, according to the news release.
However, that is apparently a moot point. Harper has resigned, according to a September 19 letter (the day before the panel announced the charges).
In the letter, addressed to Gov. Mike Beebe and signed by Kenneth A. Harper, Harper notifies the governor of his resignation. The letter reads:
“First, let me thank you for all that you do for the people of this great State.
“I have been on the bench for fifteen (15) years. It has been an honor to serve the good people of Southeast Arkansas during that period of time. But the time has come for me to step down. I hereby step down as District Judge. I will assist the Court in any way you request until you appoint a replacement.
“God bless the good people of this State.”
Harper did not return a phone call Thursday morning.