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The Walmart stores around Bentonville should consider stocking up on duct tape, baling wire and cardboard.

As the world's largest retailer prepares to build a 350-acre multi-cajillion global campus in Bentonville, across town at the seat of Benton County government, officials might need those products as they try to keep the courts system running the next few ... what, years, decades?

What’s the point?

Benton County continues working to cobble together a workable courts system but still faces the challenge of finding a long-term solution.

Having faced rejection of a complete but costly judicial solution at the polls earlier this year, Benton County officials are now trying to figure out ways to continue the vital work of the courts within existing resources.

County Judge Barry Moehring recently announced he'd found space for the anticipated addition of a seventh circuit judge to handle the caseload now handled among six judges. That additional judge is expected to take office in 2021 after an election next year.

The spot he's identified is now used by the prosecutor's office, but formerly had been used as a courtroom in 2012, so effectively, the county will turn an old makeshift courtroom into a new makeshift courtroom. Bring in the duct tape.

The space isn't big enough for a jury box, not even one made of baling wire and cardboard. If the new judge needs to hold a jury trial, everybody will have to move to another courtroom. Maybe Walmart sells straws, too, so the judges can draw them.

Judge Doug Schrantz, administrative judge for the courts system, said the diminutive courtroom will also limit the caseload that can be assigned to the new judge. That limits just how much the new judge and his staff can ease the workload of the local judicial system's other judges.

Circuit Judge Robin Green is doing her part, announcing plans to begin holding some court hearings in a smallish courtroom within the county jail. That's going to reduce the amount of transportation issues the sheriff's office faces for a healthy number of cases. Green said she'll limit the jail-located hearings to cases without victims, i.e., drug offenses, that don't usually attract audiences.

Of course, these county leaders are doing what they're supposed to do, and that's making things work within the limits they have. The public, by rejecting a new courthouse facility earlier this year, communicated their wish for the county to make do until it develops another plan for the long-term future.

It's vital, though, that nobody considers these modifications as "solving" the courts needs for Benton County. County leaders continue to chew on solutions that could at least carry the courts system over the next couple of decades. That debate continues within the Quorum Court. Voters who opposed the courthouse proposal in March, and who might remain skeptical of a future plan, should become engaged in the process and offer their thoughts throughout so that county leaders can get close to solutions acceptable to the public they serve.

We continue to suggest Benton County's size, in terms of population, economy and demand for legal adjudication, demands a comprehensive solution for its disjointed courts system. Failing to face that diminishes the courts' capacity to efficiently and effectively serve the people the system is designed to protect.

Commentary on 07/10/2019

Print Headline: Courting solutions

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