A judge who resigned on Monday is being sued by four men who allege that he preyed on them sexually after they appeared as defendants in his Arkansas court.
Joseph Boeckmann Jr resigned from his role as a district court judge in Cross County, a rural area about two hours north-east of Little Rock, on Monday after new allegations surfaced that he used his authority for the past 30 years to prey on young men charged with crimes who needed financial help or who were afraid of losing their children or jobs.
The civil lawsuit against him was filed on Tuesday and asks for damages, claiming Boeckmann abused his position of power to form improper relationships and take sexually charged photographs of men he had sentenced to “community service”.
Gary Green, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said that four men were part of the suit and more may join it. “They were all vulnerable because they were in his court,” he said. “I’ve been practicing for 37 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The lawsuit comes after investigators allegedly found about 4,600 photographs of young men on home computers belonging to Boeckmann. Many of the images depict naked men in “various poses inside the judge’s home and outside in his yard”, according to David Sachar, executive director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.
Many of the photographs are said to show naked young men from behind after they were spanked by a paddle belonging to the judge, who is accused of giving checks to defendants and people on probation and offering lighter sentences in return for sexual acts.
One man lured to Boeckmann’s home under the pretext of carrying out community service was allegedly offered $300 if he agreed to let the judge photograph him posing as Michelangelo’s David.
Boeckmann, a former prosecutor, became a Cross County district judge on 1 January 2009 after being elected the previous year. Authorities began investigating after a claim that he oversaw a case in which he had a conflict of interest. The discipline commission announced charges of ethics violations last November. Suspended since November, Boeckmann resigned by letter on Monday and promised never to work again as a public servant in Arkansas.
Criminal charges could follow. Sachar told the Guardian that the commission has turned over its findings to state and federal agencies. “They’re working on it,” he said. Sachar said that 30 to 35 alleged victims had been identified. “We know there are more,” he said.
Boeckmann’s attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, told the Guardian that his client “denies all of the allegations. He resigned because it was not worth the stress of such a fight over an office which he was going to vacate in a few months anyway when his term would have expired.” Rosenzweig said he did not want to comment on the lawsuit as he had not seen it.
In a lengthy submission last December, seen by the Arkansas Times, Boeckmann, 69, rejected the commission’s claims and said that “any photography was solely for the purpose of recording proof of community service”.
Sachar said that though the sexual allegations dated back many years in some cases, they did not come to light until last August when the commission started examining rumors of reduced sentences benefiting young men.
“Maybe it’s analogous to what we’ve seen in church organizations, youth organizations or big football programs in America. Sometimes there’s reasons, whether it’s power or whether it’s shame on behalf of the victims. I really don’t know what dynamic kept it so unavailable to public scrutiny,” he said.
A statement of allegations in January says that Boeckmann generally “appears to act as employer, financer and, on occasion, intimate partner of some defendants appearing before him in the court in which he serves”.
Witnesses reported seeing criminal defendants, including one younger than 18, get into Boeckmann’s car immediately after leaving his court. The photographs are said to be typically of men aged 18 to 40 who are holding bags of cans and bending over to pick up cans.
One, known as RM, appeared before Boeckmann in 2014 because of a traffic ticket and was allegedly one of two young men “asked to stay after court to talk to Boeckmann about ‘community service’.” The complaint states that he was told to collect two bags of cans to give to charity and handed a telephone number that he was to call when he had the cans. When he called he was given an address that turned out to be Boeckmann’s home.
RM said he brought the cans and was invited inside, where Boeckmann had a couple of drinks of whisky and repeatedly offered alcohol to his visitor. Boeckmann is reported to have told RM that he did not have to pay a $500 court fine but that the judge needed to “get a picture” of him before he left. Boeckmann allegedly told RM to take a can out of a bag and bend over as if he was picking it up, while spreading his legs farther and farther apart. Then he was offered money to pose as David.
Another alleged victim known as AS who appeared in Boeckmann’s court between 2009 and 2012 reportedly had some criminal cases against him dismissed without explanation. The alleged victim claimed that in 2013, when he still had outstanding fines, the judge paid him to pose naked for photographs and to carry out maintenance work at his rental property, as well as writing checks to pay AS’s child support.
A witness known as JJ told the commission that Boeckmann’s abusive behavior started long before he became a judge. JJ said that he was personally monitored by Boeckmann after being sentenced to community service and the prosecutor took pictures of him picking up litter by the side of a road.
Years later, when he owed Boeckmann money for representing him in a divorce case, JJ said that Boeckmann summoned him to his office, told him to pull his pants down and bend over, and was hit with a paddle and photographed while Boeckmann yelled “you’d better have a hard-on next time”. JJ said he did not come forward until seeing media coverage of the judge because he feared retribution.
An alleged victim dubbed JM who was in the middle of a domestic dispute during Boeckmann’s time as a prosecutor said that he was taken to the courthouse at night, ordered to strip naked and handcuffed. Boeckmann then allegedly told him, “as best you can, spread your butt cheeks with your hands”, took photos, gave him a $50 bill and said “you’re free to go. Case is dismissed.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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