Courtroom drama

Judge, prosecutor make claims against each other

McCastlain has filed a motion with the state's highest court as Hanshaw appoints a special master.

By John Hofheimer
Leader staff writer

===The Lonoke County prosecuting attorney's office filed a pair of motions with the state Supreme Court late Tuesday afternoon in an effort to head off what it maintains is an unauthorized Friday hearing by a special master improperly appointed by Lonoke County Circuit Judge Lance Hanshaw.
=== In an order filed Monday, Hanshaw appointed retired Circuit Judge John Plegge as special master, ordered appointment of an attorney to cross examine prosecution witnesses and further ordered Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastain's office to pay for the special master, the attorney and any other costs.
=== McCastlain has said Hanshaw has a vendetta against her office and has asked him to recuse–disqualify–himself from hearing criminal and civil cases through the end of this year. Because she will be a witness in any hearing, McCastlain has stepped aside and Special Prosecutor Jack McQuary has been appointed to pursue the case in circuit court. But at 4:14 p.m. Tuesday, on behalf of McCastlain and McQuary, J. Brent Standridge filed both a petition for a writ of prohibition and, in the alternative, a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court to appeal the lower court's decision.
=== Because Attorney General Mike Beebe's office would have a conflict of interest by representing the prosecutor's office against the judge, the prosecution hired Standridge, an appeals court specialist. They also asked for emergency or accelerated proceedings, since Hanshaw set the hearing for Friday. In the writ of prohibition, the petitioner wants the court to prohibit Hanshaw from appointing a special master, saying he lacks the statutory authority.
=== The state holds that Hanshaw, in fact, recused himself from hearing his own recusal and is thus not entitled to appoint a special master or set a hearing. "A writ of prohibition is an extraordinary remedy which is never issued to prohibit a lower court from erroneously exercising jurisdiction but only where the lower court is wholly without jurisdiction or is threatening to act in excess of its jurisdiction," according to the petition.
=== Hanshaw's Monday order for a special master and a hearing also directs the master to decide whether the attorneys were guilty of contempt of court. The writ of ceriorari also maintains that Hanshaw was without legal authority to conduct a hearing in the manner set forth in his Feb. 7 order. It asks the Supreme Court to find the order void and erroneous.
=== Finally, the petition asks that the state be given an opportunity to submit evidence supporting its claims. It's usually the administrative office of the state Supreme Court that appoints special judges, but "our authority on behalf of the chief justice occurs only when we receive a request from a judge for a replacement judge," according to J.D. Gingerich, director of the office. He said Hanshaw had made no such request.
=== A special master typically reports to back to a judge, and it appears that Hanshaw intends ultimately to make the ruling on his own recusal after hearing Plegge's findings. In a Tuesday morning order, Hanshaw denied McQuary's request for a new jury panel, writing that there was no bias, "much less a widespread bias of jurors toward the prosecuting attorney such as would justify the extraordinary acting of striking the entire jury panel."
=== McQuary's recusal motion charges that Hanshaw has a vendetta against the prosecuting attorney's office. It alleges that the judge called three male deputy prosecutors Œpussies' in the presence of defense counsel and that he ridicules and interrupts prosecutors and sometimes prevents the state from making a record. The motion alleges that Hanshaw has called the prosecutor's office "overzealous" both on and off the record.
=== Such blatant displays of bias and contempt toward the pro-secuting attorney's office are a violation of the judicial canons and prevent the State of Arkansas from receiving a fair trial, according to the McQuary's motion. Both McCastlain and Hanshaw have accused each other of having improper contact with members of the jury after Hanshaw reduced the jury's sentence in the case of rapist Larry Wayne Stephens, and of making inflammatory statements about the other.
=== Supporting his order, Hanshaw included a Jan. 24 transcript of his conversation with some of those jurors in which he accused her of wanting his job. "She definitely wants my job, and I–but I've got four more years on my term," he said. "The only way she can beat me is to discredit me and drag my name through the mud, and that's what she's doing," he told those jurors. "That's the type of person she is."