PART ONE How key Starr witness plotted with Clinton enemies
A L S O+T O D A Y
T A B L E+T A L K
Is the Israeli peace process dead? Weigh in on the future of the Middle East in the International Issues area of Table Talk
D A I L Y+Q U O T E
R E C E N T L Y
Letter from Baton Rouge
He should stay
He should go
Clinton takes the offensive
What they're saying
Transcript of President Clinton's statement
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
S P E C I A L_.R E P O R T_.|_.P A R T_.F I V E
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- In the summer of 1991, Pulaski County Administrator Walter E. "Sonny" Simpson was seeking a reasonable justification for how he might be able to explain away the stories he was hearing about the distressing manner in which Municipal Judge David Hale was administering his court. After all, Simpson was personally fond of David and his older brother, Milas, who was then also a municipal court judge in nearby Sherwood; and all three men had been active over the years in the same Democratic Party circles
But the more Simpson looked into the complaints of several of David Hale's own courthouse employees, the more he became convinced that a judge who was sworn to uphold the laws of the state of Arkansas was routinely violating them with impunity. "Some of the things that they were doing were absolutely illegal," recalled Simpson, who is also a retired Little Rock police chief.
After conducting a lengthy inquiry, Simpson concluded that Hale had allowed a private collection company, Special Court Services (SCS), to operate rent-free out of his court and to use restricted law enforcement crime databases. Simpson also discovered that Hale had allowed the same company to collect off-the-books "warrant withdrawal" fees from defendants even though no warrants had been issued in the first place.
In return for these favors, according to a previously confidential investigative report authored by Simpson, Hale received a kickback from the now defunct SCS each and every time the firm handled a hot check case for Hale's court. The kickbacks were paid by SCS to a "judge's retirement fund" whose sole beneficiary was Judge David Hale. Judge Hale did not wait until his retirement to take his benefits. SCS also regularly made other payments to a second, mysterious "rehabilitative program" fund, which Hale was also said to control, Simpson's investigation determined
The kickbacks to Hale from SCS, as described in Simpson's 1991 investigative report, are also detailed in the financial records of Hale's court, which were provided to Salon by former courthouse personnel. Three former court workers also described in interviews with Salon the kickbacks made to Hale, based on their firsthand knowledge of them.
At the time of his 1991 investigation, Simpson and other county officials were compiling information with an eye to turning it over to the police and the state prosecutor's office. If Simpson had followed through and turned over his findings to the authorities, Hale might have then been removed from the bench or even criminally charged at that time. But events were to suddenly take a decidedly unexpected turn.
The FBI, which was then investigating Hale's federally subsidized lending company, asked county officials to back off, Simpson alleged in an interview. He speculated that Hale might have already begun trying to cut a deal to avoid prosecution. "Usually, when you hear that jail-house door closing behind you, you start figuring out who you can talk about to keep from having to go," Simpson said.
Federal law enforcement sources tell a different story: They say that they were never told of the 1991 investigation of Hale's court by county officials. They further assert they were unaware of the illicit activities taking place at Hale's court. They suggest that county officials did nothing about the allegations because they wanted to protect Hale due to his family's political connections.
Three years later, however, in early 1994, a confidential informant provided the FBI essentially the same outline of potentially illegal activities taking place in Hale's court as were detailed by Simpson. Federal law enforcement authorities took no action at that time either.
Not very long after that, Hale emerged as the central witness to the investigation of the Whitewater independent counsel. During the course of the independent counsel's inquiry, two former employees of Hale's told federal Whitewater investigators about the illegal activity at Hale's court, according to law enforcement records. But for reasons that are unclear, the Whitewater investigators did not pursue the allegations.
Indeed, in interviews with FBI agents and prosecutors working for the Whitewater independent counsel, not only did Hale conceal from them the illicit operation at his court, he had the audacity to boast that he had streamlined the court's operations and improved its administration.
"Hale recalled that the county was losing money on hot check collections," said a confidential FBI report detailing a debriefing of Hale. "Hale approached the county judge about this problem and told him that his court could possibly collect some of this money and enforce some of the laws. The county judge agreed to this, and Hale began to enforce and collect on hot checks in Pulaski County."
In responding to critics that he has too zealously pursued the president, and in that pursuit exceeded the authority ordinarily granted to other independent counsels by probing the president's personal life, Starr has insisted he was duty-bound to do so. Starr told reporters last April that he could not allow anyone to "defile the temple of justice ... What matters from the criminal law's perspective is, were crimes committed?"
But FBI reports obtained by Salon in a joint investigation with the Arkansas Times show that while Starr's Whitewater investigators aggressively investigated Clinton, they apparently did nothing at all to pursue evidence that star witness Hale turned his own temple of justice -- the Pulaski County Municipal Court -- into a personal ATM in the early 1990s.
N E X T+P A G E+| Hale's cooperation with Starr pays off- - - - - - - - -
PHOTOGRAPH: AP/WIDE WORLD