Two New Circuit Judges Proposed for NEA

According to a recent study conducted by a committee of the Arkansas Judicial Council, there are not enough circuit judges in Northeast Arkansas. The proposed solution: add three more judges, including two to the Second Judicial District in Region 8.

There are many parties that are in agreement that judges are needed in the second district, including sitting judges and prosecutors. The question of how high on the priority list new judges will be for the next legislative session is yet to be determined, however.

Once the General Assembly convenes in Little Rock next month, legislators will be hearing the $600,000 proposal devised by the council. The plan would add two judges to the 2nd District, while adding one other to the 20th District.

Circuit Judge Howard Templeton is one of 10 circuit judges that serve in the second district. The district is made up of Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Greene, Mississippi, and Poinsett counties. He says he and his colleagues are swamped with work.

"It's taking longer for people to get their legal claims heard," Templeton said.

According to Templeton, cases that should be heard in a six to eight-month time period are being pushed up to a year or more.

"We carry the highest case load in the state with some 2,200-plus cases each per year, compared to a statewide average of 1,650," Templeton said.

On the other side of the bar, prosecutor Brent Davis agrees: "The judges we have are working unbelievable hours and produce at a tremendously efficient rate. But still, the numbers justify additional judges."

It is estimated that, in order to create a new judgeships, somewhere in the area of $200,000 would be needed for each judge. The price tag includes the staff people that are absolutely necessary for the position to function. The judicial council is asking for two new judgeships for the second district.

State senator Tim Wooldridge of Paragould expects a positive reception from his colleagues in the legislature, despite the range of funding issues from education reform to a possible sales tax increase.

"As we go through the process of prioritizing what the needs are," Wooldridge said. "I think legislators will agree with us from Northeast Arkansas that one of those needs is to make sure that the judicial system flows expeditiously as possible."