You may have seen a line of people standing outside the Old Federal Building on Thursday. It was the first Thursday session of Boone County District Court for more than two months and Judge Fred Kirkpatrick said he was pleased with the way the process worked.
In-person court appearances and hearings had been suspended shortly after the last Thursday court session on March 12. Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Dan Kemp lifted that ban as of this week.
Thursdays are plea and arraignment days in Boone County District Court. It’s the time people make their first appearance on a citation and enter pleas if they haven’t already paid the ticket.
But, Kirkpatrick said, many people appear on Thursdays to set up payment plans for fines or to outright pay fines to get it out of the way.
This Thursday, Kirkpatrick said court staff did some thinking outside the lines, even “outside the building.”
Court clerks and bailiffs were on the back loading dock of the building. Clerks dealt with as many people who wanted to set up payment plans or enter not guilty pleas as possible to limit the number of people actually inside the building.
There are some procedures that must be handled by the presiding judge. Those people underwent health screenings before going in the building, all wearing face coverings. Only 10 people were allowed in the courtroom at a time and they had to be spaced out.
As the day began, Kirkpatrick said he looked outside and saw the line. He was pleasantly surprised to see that the people were all standing about six feet apart.
“They actually complied with social distancing on their own,” the judge said. People brought their own face masks as well and no one complained about it.
The process of processing people on the dock rather than inside of the building went well, especially at a time when many people seem to care little about the COVID-19 emergency.
“I'm proud of my clerks for their willingness to ‘think outside the box,’ thankful to the Boone County sheriff for providing extra bailiffs, and very pleased with all the people who were here for their appearance,” Kirkpatrick said. “People were polite, respected the social distancing requirements, and if courtroom attendance was necessary, graciously consented to having their temperature checked and answering the required questions.”