Second Division Circuit Judge Robert H. Wyatt recognized former Jefferson County Judge Booker Clemons, who was in the audience, during Thursday's meeting of the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club held at the Pine Bluff Country Club.
Wyatt said that while Clemons was the county judge, fiber-optic service was completed to all the offices in the courthouse, and now, rather than every office paying for internet service, there is one service for all of them.
“By the end of the year, Jefferson County will be 100 percent electronic filing,” Wyatt said.
He also touted Court Connect, which allows anyone to find out information about cases.
He said there are currently 8,345 cases pending in circuit court and another 6,000 plus in district court. But, “our district moves cases along rather quickly," he added.
Wyatt also talked about the situation statewide, saying that there are 125 circuit judges in Arkansas, and while court filing are down in the southern part of the state, where the population is declining, court filing are increasing in the northern part of the state, where the population is growing.
“There was a proposal to take positions away from South Arkansas and move them to North Arkansas, but that didn’t pass,” Wyatt said. “The state needs five more judges, four in Northwest Arkansas and one in Northeast Arkansas.”
One suggestion that was made was to move Arkansas County, which is the only county in the 11-East Judicial District into the district with Jefferson and Lincoln Counties but that didn’t happen.
Wyatt also talked about jury service and its importance to the justice system.
“I’m passionate about jury service,” Wyatt said. “I would encourage every one of you to serve on a jury, to see what they do.”
He said that he gets more phone calls about jury notifications, which are sent three times a year, than he does on any other subject, with people saying they’re too busy or too important to serve on a jury.
“I will say I excuse you from jury service, but the next time you are in a car wreck or in a dispute that goes to a jury trial, the jury is not going to look like you,” Wyatt said. “The jury is going to be what’s left over from people who are too busy or too important.”
He said the jury pool is made up of people who have an Arkansas Driver’s License, state-issued identification and from registered voters. Those who have been convicted of a felony are not allowed to serve.
“They must be able to read and write reasonably well and be mentally stable and sound of mind,” Wyatt said.
"Jury service is an honor and the best service you can do,” he said.
Wyatt has served on the bench since 2005 when he was appointed to replace former Circuit Judge Fred D. Davis, who retired. A few months before that, Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis was appointed to serve the remainder of the term of the late Judge H.A. Taylor.
Since state law prohibited Wyatt and Dennis from succeeding themselves, they each ran for the other’s position in the 2006 Judicial General Election and both won, with Dennis becoming Fifth Division Circuit Judge and Wyatt becoming Second Division Circuit Judge.
Wyatt explained that there are six circuit judges in the 11-West Judicial District, which includes Jefferson and Lincoln counties, and three district judges, two who serve in Jefferson County and the third who serves in Lincoln County.
Wyatt also talked about how technology has changed the way attorneys and the courts do business.
He mentioned the Jefferson County Law Library, which is located in the courthouse, and said that while it is one of the better law libraries in the state, the emphasis is no longer on buying books.
“Books get expensive,” Wyatt said. “Everything is electronic now so nobody has any excuse not to stay up to date.”