Our justice system relies equally on 2 things: a system of laws to govern proper conduct and individuals of character to administer the enforcement of those laws. Because they decide guilt, innocence, and punishment, no position in the justice system requires greater moral character than the position of judge.
But the problem with so much relying on the character of judges is that they’re imperfect people just like the rest of us. But when one judge was more than just “imperfect,” it would prove to have far reaching effects…
Richard was a young man from Memphis, Tennessee who had an unfortunate brush with the law. He was driving along one day when he heard the wail of a siren and saw flashing lights behind him. Not sure exactly what he’d done, Richard pulled over to the side of the road.
Richard provided his license and registration and when the police officer told him why he was pulling him over, he couldn’t believe it. The cop told Richard that he’d been driving 5 miles per hour over the speed limit and he was going to write a ticket…
For such a small infraction, it was likely Richard could get the ticket thrown out if he fought it in court. Unfortunately for him, he’d forgotten about the ticket by the time the trial date rolled around and failed to show up.
Now, Richard was facing charges for his failure to appear before the court. This time, he remembered to show up and appeared before Judge Joseph Boeckmann. While Richard could have been given a fine or even jail time for his failure to appear, Judge Boeckmann seemed willing to show some leniency…
Judge Boeckmann agreed to dismiss the charges against Richard if he called the Judge’s phone number to arrange a bit of community service. Richard was glad that he would put all this nonsense behind him with just an afternoon of work. But it seemed a bit odd to him that he had to report to Judge Boeckmann’s home to perform the community service.
When Richard arrived at Judge Boeckmann’s home, he was told he had to pick up bags of canned goods that were to be delivered to a local charity. But as he started to work, Richard noticed that Judge Boeckmann took out a camera…
Judge Boeckmann told Richard that he was taking photographs of him as proof of his community service. But rather than just taking a generic shot or two showing him doing the work, Boeckmann took pictures of Richard from behind as he was bending over to pick up the cans.
After insisting on taking pictures of Richard from embarrassing angles, Judge Boeckmann took pictures of Richard’s tattoos. Then he offered Richard $300 if he could photograph him as he posed like Michelangelo’s david…
Drawing The Line
Richard became increasingly uncomfortable with Judge Boeckmann’s behavior and, when he was offered the money for posing that was clearly unrelated to his community service, that’s where Richard drew the line. “I’ve never felt more betrayed by the justice system,” he said.
Richard felt violated but powerless to do anything about what had happened. Considering Boeckmann’s powerful position in the legal system, Richard didn’t think there was anything he could do, so he kept his mouth shut for the time being…
It seemed like nothing would be done about Judge Boeckmann’s behavior until, in 2014, the State Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission began an inquiry into Boeckmann over a possible conflict of interest in an unrelated case. Their investigation took an unexpected turn when court employees asked one question of the investigators.
The court employees wanted to know if the investigators from the commission had heard about “the boys.” “Then the dam broke,” said David Sachar, executive director of the commission. The commission uncovered evidence and testimony of a number of men, most with similar stories to Ricard…
Just as had happened to Richard, Judge Boeckmann had sentenced a number of young men to “community service” at his home and elsewhere, then took pictures of them “in embarrassing positions; positions that he found sexually gratifying,” according to court documents.
One young man named Kyle Butler was forced to pose for photos as well as routinely help Boeckmann clean a laptop that had been slowed down by a collection of pornographic pictures and videos. “I had to do as he said. He held all the keys to my freedom,” said Butler…
It’s Happened Before
To make matters worse, this wasn’t even the first time Judge Boeckmann had been investigated for such behavior. In the 1990s, when Boeckmann was a deputy prosecutor in Cross County, Arkansas, he was under federal investigation for abusing his position to satisfy his urges.
Swept Under the Rug
In that investigation, Boeckmann had worked out a deal where he would agree to resign from his position and in exchange, he would keep his law license and no charges would be filed. Because he kept things quiet and kept his license, he was later able to be elected as a judge…
Not This Time
This time there would be no chance to sweep things under the rug. After several months of investigation, in October of 2016, Boeckmann was indicted on charges of wire fraud as well as witness tampering and bribery as a result of trying to bribe a witness in the investigation. In the face of the investigation, the 70-year-old man had already resigned from his position as a judge in May.
Staggering Number of Victims
Over the course of Boeckmann’s trial, the extent of his abuse became clear. In just 2014 alone, he dismissed 66 cases involving boys and men between the ages of 15 and 35 based on their completion of “community service.” Over the 9 years he was a judge, the total number of Boeckmann’s victims was likely in the hundreds…
Boeckmann’s lawyer made an argument for home detention, claiming his client was “an elderly, broken, ailing man,” and saying that his fading memory would make the claims difficult to dispute. The prosecutors framed things differently, saying that Boeckmann wanted “credit for having avoided detection” for so long.
“He eroded the community’s trust in the fair administration of justice,” said the prosecutor. The judge in the case saw things the same way and had no sympathy for Boeckmann’s. For the abuse of his power, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release, and was fined $50,000.