Bill could combine district courts in some Arkansas counties

By Brandi Hodges - bio | email

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) -A bill is making its way through the Arkansas Legislature that would combine district courts in some counties.  While it would make them larger, it would also take courts from some counties.

"It's a touchy situation.  Clay County is really opposed to this," said Clay County District Court Judge David Copelin.

Copelin is talking about House Bill 1869.  The bill seeks to create state district courts where each District Court Judge would be full-time.

"This is about Clay County having its own judge.  Law enforcement wants it, our cities want it," said Copelin.

Judge Copelin is in his first term as District Court Judge for Clay County.

"Don't fix if it's not broke.  It works good for us has for the past 40 years," said Copelin.

The bill calls for different district courts to combine.   This would require fewer judges and broaden the coverage area of each district.  If passed, Judge Copelin worries it would quiet the voices of voters in his county.

"If combined with a bigger county I think the chances of us electing someone from Clay County would be rather difficult," said Copelin.

Copelin also said there is an added benefit of having a judge in the county.

"I've been down early in the morning to sign off on search warrants.  It's good to have someone local," said Copelin.

While he only hears misdemeanor cases, Judge Copelin said he often assists the county sheriff's department.

"Here at this jail, if anyone is arrested and we need a probable cause hearing we can call him at any time," said Clay County Sheriff Gerald McClung.

"When they call I'm able to pretty much come running.  I come there late at night 11:00 p.m. or 11:30 p.m.  I'm there at 4:00 a.m. or 4:30 a.m.," said Copelin.

Judge Copelin said if this bill were to pass it wouldn't take effect for Clay County until 2021 giving them ten years for changes to happen.

Sheriff Gerald McClung agrees it would hurt Clay County.

"We're not for it because these little counties, we're losing too much as it is," said McClung.

Judge Copelin said he has been working with Representative Mike Patterson and Senator Robert Thompson on this issue.  He would like for there to be another solution.

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