Day in court
Exchange between attorney, judge becomes heated By KELI JACOBI News-Times Staff An exchange between a Little Rock attorney and Circuit Judge Hamilton H. Singleton turned heated Tuesday after the attorney requested a suspension of all proceedings against his client based on the defendant’s need for a mental evaluation. The defendant, Johnny Frank Evans, 30, faces trial by jury in two weeks in Union County Circuit Court. He appeared with attorney Ron Davis on the last plea date available before his trial.
Davis pointed to a number of concerns he had about Evans’ ability to withstand trial, including recent revelations that his client received prior treatment for mental illness and had once attempted suicide by cutting his wrists. Evans turned himself over to the Union County Sheriff’s Office last June after disappearing for three months following an investigation of his home at 2408 Nevada St. which revealed significant quantities of drugs and drug paraphernalia, according to the UCSO.
His trial, along with the trial of three family members who are co-defendants in the case, is slated for the week of March 20.
Citing an Arkansas statute which requires an attorney to notify the court promptly when questions of mental competency arise, Davis requested a suspension of all court proceedings until an adequate mental evaluation could be performed on Evans. His repeated requests were met with a vigorous denial of the verbal motion by Singleton, who, at one point during the exchange, lifted a handwritten note on a piece of legal notebook paper with a single capitalized word posted on it – "NO."
Davis appealed the decision several times, as he expounded on his client’s condition and informed the court that Evans was "hearing voices." "A re these new voices ... or just since the last motion that was filed?" the judge retorted. Admonishing Davis that he had done everything possible to get the case to trial in a timely manner, the judge also admitted, "I don’t believe him (Evans)."
Davis responded by accusing Singleton of using a "harsh tone," and said the judge’s demeanor was having a "chilling effect" on his ability to appropriately serve the needs of his client.
Singleton denied Davis’ intimation that the judge’s personal dislike for the attorney impeded a fair proceeding.
"What I don’t like is springing these things at the last minute ... and verbally," Singleton said.
The statute dictates that when a defendant’s mental fitness to proceed is raised as an issue, the court "shall immediately suspend all further proceedings in the prosecution."
A 2003 ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court in a similar case supported the defense’s right to a suspension in proceedings, citing the "mandatory obligation" of a circuit judge to order a mental evaluation upon notice by the attorney.
Hamilton also denied a separate request by Davis for a response to his written motion to separate the codefendants at trial due to "conflicting defenses" of those involved.
"These are not frivolous motions ... they are based on fact and law," objected Davis. Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Rogers indicated in court that at least one co-defendant would be entering into a plea agreement with the state in exchange for reduced charges, and was a potential witness who would testify against Evans, though he added that the defendant’s sentence "would not be results-based."