Judges to continue dispensing justice electronically

The Washington County Courthouse is seen in Fayetteville in this undated file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)
The Washington County Courthouse is seen in Fayetteville in this undated file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Washington County Courthouse is set to open Monday, but circuit judges said they'll keep their courtrooms closed and will continue to hear cases electronically for now.

Stacey Zimmerman, the juvenile court judge and administrative judge for the 4th Judicial District, polled all the judges in the district about their individual plans and issued a news release Friday outlining for attorneys and others how proceedings will be held in each court in light of the building's opening.

The judicial district covers Washington and Madison counties.

All seven circuit judges said they'll continue hearing cases primarily via Zoom or teleconference. Uncontested and default divorces will continue to be done by affidavit.

Two judges, Joanna Taylor and Cristi Beaumont, said they may have some, very limited, in-person proceedings in certain situations.

Beaumont, who presides over drug court, said she may bring some high-risk individuals in for sanction hearings with a maximum of five participants at a time allowed in the courtroom. Masks and 6-foot distancing will be required. People not a part of the proceedings won't be allowed in the courtroom. Staff will be allowed to appear remotely.

Taylor, who hears domestic relations, civil and criminal cases, said she will consider requests for in-person hearings and will rule on any request as quickly as possible. If in-person hearings are granted, the court will observe masking and 6-foot social distancing requirements as well as a 10-person limit in the courtroom.

All of the judges urged anyone with questions concerning their court proceedings to contact their office staff by telephone or email.

The Arkansas Supreme Court in March ordered in-person court proceedings be limited to critical matters, such as certain criminal hearings, requests for restraining orders, emergency child custody disputes and other time-sensitive matters.

Washington County officials announced May 11 the courthouse building would open Monday morning, although not all offices will open. In addition to the courts, the building houses offices of the county judge, county clerk, circuit clerk, assessor, treasurer, comptroller, election commission, quorum court room and various support staff.

There will be some restrictions on public access because of the ongoing covid-19 pandemic.

People will be told to wear masks and will be subject to having their temperature taken when they enter. The circuit clerk and prosecutor's offices won't be open to the public Monday, and the assessor and collector will open some satellite offices, but not their main offices in the courthouse.

Benton County opened many of its offices Monday .

NW News on 05/16/2020

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