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story.lead_photo.caption The Benton County Courthouse. - Photo by Ben Goff

Circuit judges in Benton and Washington counties will decide next year what cases the new judges will handle when they take the bench in 2021.

The Arkansas Legislature approved a bill during the just-ended session that added circuit judge positions to some areas in the state. The 19th Judicial District West, which is Benton County, and the 4th Judicial District, which includes Madison and Washington counties, will each receive an additional judge.

The additional judges will give Benton County a total of seven judges in 2021, while the 4th Judicial District will have eight judges in 2021.

The judges will be elected next year and take office Jan. 1, 2021. Circuit judges in the state will be elected March 3, which coincides with the primary election. Any runoffs will be on the general election ballot in November.

Benton County Circuit Judge Doug Schrantz, who serves as the court's administrative judge, said the sitting judges have started discussions on case assignments for the new judge.

Judicial districts must submit administrative plans every two years. The next plan is due July 1, Schrantz said. The administrative plan details how judges are assigned cases.

Schrantz said the July 1 plan will not include what cases will be assigned to the new judge. An amended plan will be submitted in 2020 that will break down the case assignments.

Case filings have increased in Benton County from 10,752 in 2011 to 11,785 in 2017, according to annual reports compiled by the state Administrative Office of the Court.

In Washington County, case filings went from 13,225 in 2011 to 14,606 in 2017, the reports show.

Circuit Judge Stacey Zimmerman, who serves as the administrative judge for the 4th Judicial District, said she and the other six judges plan to meet to decide on case assignments and to prepare their administrative plan.

The plans must be approved by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Zimmerman said she believes the new judge could become a second judge in the district to handle juvenile cases. The juvenile court started in 1990. Zimmerman handles virtually all juvenile cases in Washington and Madison counties, including delinquency, dependent-neglect and Family in Need of Services.

"There's a lot of volume of cases in juvenile court, and we need another judge," she said.

Benton County Judge Barry Moehring said the county is in the initial phase to come up with a location that would make a suitable courtroom for a circuit judge.

"We will continue to brainstorm and get a more concrete plan in place this summer," he said.

Anything the county comes up with would be a temporary fix to a bigger problem, he said. The county needs a new court facility, he said. A sales tax measure to fund a new court facility in Benton County failed last month.

Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith said his office filed fewer than 2,000 cases in 2014. The office filed 2,700 cases last year, he said.

Smith said a third criminal court may lead to some staffing changes with court assignments for deputy prosecutors. He said the office will have to add another division chief if there's a third criminal division.

Circuit Judges Robin Green and Brad Karren currently handle the criminal cases in the county.

NW News on 04/15/2019

Print Headline: Counties receive new judges' positions

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