“You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. You must defend all of it or be against all of it.” ― Scott Howard Phillips
UPDATE: 5/9/2023, 1:15 pm
Prosecutor Jeff Phillips has filed an answer to Bewley’s Motion to Disqualify him based on the fact that Phillips previously represented Bewley and his mother in a custody and order of protection case in 2015. The Motion contains the transcript from the hearing held in March and shows a disturbing lack of awareness by Prosecutor Phillips and Judge Dunham about their past cases and the current rules of ethics that apply to attorneys and judges in our state.
Phillips feels as though there is no conflict of interest involved in prosecuting Bewley even if he represented him previously and had access to his confidential medical and psychological information. Phillips even claims he, “was unable to obtain a copy of the files concerning his previous
representation because it is sealed, however, he has no independent
recollection of ever representing the Defendant in any case.”
It is unknown as to how Phillips attempted to get access to the case file. Did you make a phone call to the clerk? Did you log into your E-file account on Eflex and look for the case? Did you look in your own file cabinets? Arkansas attorneys are directed to keep a case file for five years. Was your file destroyed after five years? Why would you attempt to access the case file after having been told that there was a potential conflict of interest? Have you ever had issues accessing an old case file for clients or is it just in this case?
Phillips is also upset because Benca did not file any amended motions with more specific allegations about the conflict of interest on the part of Judge Dunham and Prosecutor Phillips. Is this required or just an attempt to throw things out based on a request by a Judge with clear conflicts in this case? Should Benca be required to try the entire case in a new amended motion on top of the other amended motions he’s already filed? How many amendments does Judge Dunham need to understand the conflict of interest in this case? Apparently Phillips sees this lack of new amended motions as proof that he never represented Bewley or his mother which is wild given that he could have just called the circuit clerk and asked her who the attorneys on that specific case were. Perhaps he’s alleging that all sealed custody matters in Pope County cease to exist as soon as he forgets about it?
The entire transcript from the hearing is available on court connect at least as of today and we have pulled a short amount of it so that you can see for yourself just how things operate in Pope County and it is below. Scroll past the transcript for the previous article and update.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): I thought this was a no brainer recusal.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Okay
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): An absolute no brainer. The people I’ve been in contact with are surprised, very surprised, that if it comes out the way it came out, and if it happened the way that it did as far as what happened as far as my client, I mean we’re talking that I can make an argument with regard to all of the evidence, all of the evidence being excluded in this case. And so I, I take, I, that’s the first and foremost issue, okay?
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): I think you were just as upset, and surprised that we actually have revocation hearings here before we have the cases in chief.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Yeah I
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Which we do routinely. And I’ve been waiting to see that we’ve been doing that incorrectly, but I haven’t seen anything filed from you.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): And I’m going to file a motion with regard to that. And I had said at the beginning of the hearing, if you were paying attention.
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): I was trying to.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Mr JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR), I know.
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): I was trying to pay
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): You’ve had a tough time
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): …attention to the issue we were supposed to hear today.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): You’ve had a tough time.
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Yeah. I did.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): And so, what you should be doing is you should have, in the beginning of this case, you should have stood up and said, “Your Honor”
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Thanks for telling me ethics.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): I know Mr. Bewley
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Why don’t you
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): I know Mr. Smith
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Hold on. Hold on.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): I know Ms. Smith
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Talk to me
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Hold on Mr. PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY)
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Well he was addressing me
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Wait wait
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): He was addressing me
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: I hear you. Wait.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Thank you
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Mr. PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY), when I tell you to stop you need to stop. Do you understand? Yes or no?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): I understand
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Good. Now listen to me. In regard to the motion related to the timing of the hearings, that has already been decided in this case? Has it already been filed and decided?
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): The number of witnesses and, what are you
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: I thought the Defendant previously presented a motion related to the use of his testimony
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): He did and it was ruled upon after a hearing. And I didn’t know if there was going to be any additional motions to that, to that issue, but there was a, there was a contested hearing previous with motions filed, and the State answered with case law that addressed that issue.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Are you, is that a
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Not this issue
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Is, well let me ask it. Is this a renewal of a, of a motion that has been previously ruled upon?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): No, that would be a frivolous request, and I wouldn’t make such a motion
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Okay, so
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): I’m only making a motion that has merit
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: What, what, do you know what it’s going
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): And I just, I just outlined it.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Okay, tell it to me again.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): What motion are we talking about?
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: I, because, you’re the one that knows the, I don’t know
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): I, the only thing that I have not filed was the motion with regard to whether a revocation hearing can take place before a jury trial, okay? I, in preparation for me preparing that, and this, the transcript will indicate this, I said it in open court to everyone, I said, while I was getting prepared for that hearing, I, it was disclosed to me that there was information relevant to your representation of Mr. Bewley and his family in the past; and there was information relevant to Mr. JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR) in his, in his representation of Mr. Bewley and his family in the past. Then my focus changed.
And then when I hear, when I heard from Ms. Smith what took place, and then I hjeard from Mr. Belwery what took place with regard to you and your conversation with him and his attorney in his presence and what took place after that, I decided I need to reevaluate what I needed to do and I needed to focus on, the more important issue is, is getting this Court removed from this case because of the conflict, the recusal, and getting Mr. JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR) disqualified from the case for not revealing, as he’s required to under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, that he’s supposed to identify any potential conflicts with Mr. Bewley and/or his family, and he did not do that.
I also want to outline in detail that JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM itself has an obligation to point out the fact that he knew Mr. Bewley and his representation of Mr. Bewley in the past and what that representation entailed.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: One minute
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Those are the arguments that I’m making in these motions
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Okay. Are you, are you asserting that I’ve previously represented Mr. Bewley?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Yes
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Did I?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Yes. In an ex parte no contact protection order with regard to him and his mother as to his father. I just outlined that to you. I just said it in detail.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Okay
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): In 2015 Chris Bewley was physically attacked by his father; Valerie attempted to return to attorney Jeff JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR) but was told he was heading out of the country to a weightlifting competition and he suggested Attorney James Dunham assist Valerie in getting an emergency ex parte or a no contact. This filed with court custody case where the decisions to allow contact were not heavily, or were not heavily weighted, and in the input of Chris’ therapist was taken into consideration. James Dunham had access to all these medical records from the abuse findings to the psy, to the psychological assessments done by Mr., done to Mr. Bewley
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Who was the client then? Was Christopher Bewley the client?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): He sure was your honor
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Okay. Okay.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Which is what I’ve been
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Can I ask
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Saying from the very beginning
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Judge for clarification, so I’m hearing now that I referred, I referred this case because I couldn’t handle it, although paragraph
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): You were at a weightlifting competition
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Yes, so that alleg
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): You asked if your buddy can take over for you, and he did.
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Okay so you’re saying that I didn’t represent him; I referred? I’m just trying to be clear
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Then you worked on it together is my understanding.
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Okay
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): As buddies
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): As your understanding?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Correct
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): All right
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: All right. So you can amend all of your motions, including a motion related to the setting of the PTR hearing by May the, or April the 5th, is that right?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Thats correct
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Okay. And does the defendant need any additional time to do that?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): No, I can file those motions.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: In regards to the PTR hearing, the State, you think you’ll have four witnesses?
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Yes
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Wasn’t it previously set for half a day?
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Yes
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Okay. How many witnesses do you think the Defendant will have Mr. PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY)?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): I would imagine between four to six. Those same witnesses.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: The same people?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Yep.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: So a total of six witnesses total is what you think?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Yes, I believe so.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Okay so it really needs, if I said it needs a full day, would that be right?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): I think that would be fair.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Mr. JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR) do you agree with that?
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Probably safer to do it that way
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Okay so April the 17th is the appearance, thats at 1:30, and that for a PTR setting conference and for pretrial. April the 5th is the deadline for the defendant to file the motions that you’ve referred to, which are related to the recusal, the disqualification, and motions related to the sequencing of PTR versus trial on the merits.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Correct
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: And you’re going to also comply with the order regarding the information to be provided on the motions to suppress. Is there anything, anything else that’s in the nature of pleadings that the defendant’s anticipating?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): I don’t believe so your honor.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Where is the state at on this?
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Judge, the State would like until after April 5th and everything is, is finalized from the defense standpoint to answer anything related to the State in the recusal and the motion to suppress, of course.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Right. Okay. So the State can reply to that, I would say, you know, if you could do it by the, cour you do it by the 12th? Well, I would say 13th, the 13th of April?
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): Yes.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Okay.
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): I think, I think we only have one jury trial between, two jury trials between now and then.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Right. All right. Well, if either of the part, and so if each of the parties would just keep me informed on, in terms of time, so because on the, on the 17th it will be a congested docket, and so I may want to set a different, not an additional time, we’ll still appear on the 17th, but I may want to set a separate time to hear matters that are raised. So that being the case, all right. What else does the State think needs to be presented today?
JEFF PHILLIPS (PROSECUTOR): I don’t think there is anything else that needs to be presented.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: Mr. PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY), do you have anything further?
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): Nope, I’m all good. Thank you.
JUDGE JAMES DUNHAM: All right. You’re excused.
PATRICK BENCA (ATTORNEY FOR BEWLEY): All right. Thanks.
UPDATE: 5/2/2023, 9:36 am
On Friday, April 28th, Judge James Dunham signed an Order recusing himself from both of Bewley’s current criminal cases citing a Judicial complaint filed by Bewley.
Yesterday, May 1st, an order was entered in the cases assigning them to Judge Ken Coker.
Judicial complaints are not public information until a final decision has been made. It is unknown as to whether Prosecutor Jeff Phillips or Carol Collins will also face ethical complaints. We will update when we are able.
Christopher Bewley was arrested on the 9th of May, 2022 for Rape in Pope County. The State then moved to revoke his probation on the 18th of May because of this new charge. Bewley was on probation for Domestic Battery and Endangering the Welfare of a Minor. You may remember this case as we covered it when it happened in 2021. Pictures of children covered in bruises were sent to the Pope County Sheriff’s Office and Bewley was arrested for abusing the children. A link to our previous article can be found here. The pictures were eventually posted on social media and folks from the community were absolutely horrified.
As much as we believe Bewley to be a dangerous individual who needs a long prison sentence if not a life prison sentence, the appearance of unethical behavior by the folks in Pope County cannot go unnoticed. As Arkansas citizens we cannot stress enough that EVERYONE deserves a fair trial.
According to a Motion to Recuse and a Motion for Recusal and a Motion to Disqualify Prosecuting Attorney filed by Bewley’s attorney, Patrick Benca, he was taken from the jail on May 25th over to the courthouse and placed in a room behind Judge Dunham’s courtroom. The bailiff then brought him into the courtroom where he was met by Judge Dunham who was not wearing his Judge’s robe as well as Attorney Carol Collins. There was no court reporter present.
This is what is called, “ex parte communication” which is simply a conversation with a Judge that involves only one side of a case and can include conversations with attorneys, parties to the case, jurors, witnesses, and law enforcement. Ex parte communications are prohibited by the Judicial Code of Conduct because it can influence a Judge’s opinion and threatens the basic legal right for all parties to be present to hear all matters related to that particular case.
If we allow folks’ rights to be violated in order to get a conviction we run the risk of violent offenders being released on the streets due to appeals. We are NOT SAFER in a community where our due process is not respected. Why would anyone want to win a case with evidence that they were able to get access to with lies and unethical behavior designed to take away your civil right to due process?
Judge Dunham allegedly told Bewley he would not be released from jail until he gave up the passcode to his cell phone. This cell phone had been seized by law enforcement when he was arrested on the rape charge. Bewley says he then told Judge Dunham he would like to speak with an attorney before he gives them the passcode. Judge Dunham then appointed Carol Collins as Bewley’s attorney. After this, Carol Collins allegedly told Bewley, “If you don’t give the judge your passcode, you’re not going to get out of jail.”
Bewley ultimately gave them the passcode to the phone and wasn’t released from jail for almost another eight months. During this time, Bewley’s attorney alleges that Judge Dunham also caused the Defendant to toll speedy trial and waive his right to a hearing within 60 days on his probation revocation. “Tolling” allows for the pausing or delaying of the running of the period of time so that none of the time Bewley spent in jail was counted. Regardless of whether a person is in custody or is on pre-trial bond, when they cause a delay or agree to a continuance, the speedy trial period is “tolled.”
Bewley’s attorney has also filed several motions to suppress stating that there was no probable cause to arrest him so any evidence they were able to ascertain from that arrest should be thrown out. This would include any evidence they were able to retrieve from Bewley’s cell phone. What should have happened is the prosecutor should have filed search warrants as a part of the investigation based on probable cause. Instead they didn’t get a proper search warrant and relied on Bewley’s inability to protect himself from Judge Dunham and Carol Collins while he was in jail. Bewley’s consent to search the phone was given under duress if you believe his claims and that means it should be thrown out.
Let us be very clear that this has no bearing on whether a rape actually occurred and whether you should or shouldn’t believe the victim in this case. We choose to believe all victims because we are a victim focused page. This situation shows just how important it is to our community that attorneys and Judges follow the law because if a proper investigation had been done the Judge wouldn’t be attempting to act as law enforcement.
In Bewley’s Motion for Disqualification of Prosecuting Attorney he also claims that Prosecutor Jeff Phillips represented Bewley’s mother in a custody case involving Bewley being attacked by his father. Because of Phillips’ involvement in the case he was given access to Bewley’s medical and counseling records which shows a clear conflict of interest. The motion also says Judge Dunham was involved in an order of protection case in conjunction with the custody case so again, another major conflict of interest.
Bewley is set for a pretrial hearing on April 17th but his attorney has filed to continue the hearing to a later date because of a scheduling conflict and Prosecutor Jeff Phillips has indicated he needs additional time to prepare for a hearing on these motions.
If Bewley wins, a special prosecutor will be appointed and a different Judge will hear the case. We will continue to watch the developments in this case. If you have experienced anything similar involving these Judges and attorneys we want to hear from you. Please contact us by email at email@example.com or through our social media.