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Benton County judges require masks in courtrooms

by Tracy Neal | April 3, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.
A Benton County courtroom Nov. 27, 2020. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

BENTONVILLE -- People are no longer required to wear masks to get into the Benton County Courthouse, but masks must be worn in the courtrooms.

Benton County's seven circuit judges signed an order Thursday stating their intent to continue to follow the Arkansas Supreme Court's directions.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson lifted the state's mask mandate, but the state Supreme Court entered an order in November with safety guidelines for courts. The guidelines require face coverings, seat distancing and hand sanitizer.

Benton County Circuit Judge John Scott said they thought it was important to be on the same page concerning masks and also believe it's important to continue requiring masks in the courtrooms. People may take the masks off when they leave the courtroom, he said.

Judges have held a mix of in-person and online hearings since the pandemic began last year.

Benton County Judge Barry Moehring sent a letter Tuesday to county employees saying they're strongly encouraged to wear a mask while in county facilities. Benton County employees who, because of the nature of their jobs, cannot consistently stay 6 feet away from other employees or members of the public are required to wear a mask, Moehring said.

Elected officials and supervisors may have additional reasons for altering these guidelines and will communicate that to their employees, Moehring said.

Members of the public who enter county buildings will be strongly encouraged to wear a mask but will not be required to do so, Moehring said.

Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith said he's not requiring his employees to wear a mask since county employees are encouraged, but not required to wear masks.

"I am continuing to encourage them to get the vaccine and the majority of our folks have gotten it or are in the process," Smith said.

Scott said the Supreme Court is expected to provide more guidance to judges before May.

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