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HOT SPRINGS -- The $1.53 million courtroom at the Garland County jail has become a regular venue for criminal proceedings, warranting its inclusion in the $17,000 upgrade to the court reporting system for the county's four circuit court divisions, officials say.

The appropriation from the circuit courts automation and cost funds approved earlier this month by the Garland County Quorum Court will upgrade court reporting system hardware and software in the four circuit courtrooms at the county courthouse and county courts building and the jail courtroom. The latter was part of the original design of the jail but was not added to the 156,000-square-foot facility until money was available through the construction fund backed by the 0.675 percent sales tax voters approved in 2011.

The courtroom was built with contingency money originally earmarked to outfit and equip the jail, shifting $1.4 million in furniture, fixtures and equipment costs from the contingency line item to the jail's operation and maintenance fund. The 0.375% sales tax voters approved in 2011 supports the operation and maintenance of the jail, raising about $7 million a year.

The jail courtroom made transporting inmates to the courthouse less necessary, but the two circuit judges who hear felony cases in the county were initially reluctant to use the 12,000-square-foot space when the jail opened in June 2015.

Judge Marcia Hearnsberger now makes regular use of the facility, conducting arraignments and other pretrial proceedings for defendants held at the jail. She takes her staff to the jail for inmate arraignments on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of the month and holds motion hearings there on the second Tuesday and Wednesday.

Hearnsberger said the in-person setting works better than transporting inmates to the courthouse or communicating with them via video.

"The hearings are sometimes very short, and the people in jail don't get a lot of time with their attorneys when they're in jail," she said. "I feel like they deserve to have that time to see me and their attorney and the prosecutor face to face. You don't get the same feeling using video."

Judge John Homer Wright, who also hears felony cases, has inmates transported to the courthouse, conducting proceedings for detained defendants on Mondays. He holds video proceedings, which he said are adequate for arraignments, on Fridays.

"I'm not really comfortable bringing everybody to the jail," Wright, referring to his court staff, said. "I'm more comfortable with having everybody at the courthouse in one location. At present, my practice is to bring prisoners to the courtroom.

"We are trying to expand what we do by video, but because of the digital delay it makes for an awkward Q and A. You've got a four- or five-second delay that makes it awkward to hold a hearing. Interactions between the parties are better enabled when everyone is in the same place."

The quorum court also appropriated $20,000 from the court cost fund for an audiovisual system for Hearnsberger's courtroom, putting monitors in the jury box, witness stand and bench to present evidence more clearly during trials. The system will replace the large television currently used to display video exhibits.

NW News on 06/17/2019

Print Headline: Jail's $1.53 million court included in county courtroom updates

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