A judge will hold court for the first time at the Faulkner County Criminal Justice Building on Monday.
The day will be the beginning of a "soft" opening, County Judge Allen Dodson said on Saturday. Winding down the operations that will be moved from the existing Faulkner County Courthouse will take time. But on Monday, Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson will preside over proceedings in his new courtroom for the first time.
The day will also mark the start of his 20th year as a judge in Faulkner County.
"It’s a much better facility for the people that have to use it," Clawson said on Saturday. "But it’s also bittersweet. I’ve been practicing law here since 1978 and I’ve spent a lot of hours at that old courthouse; lots of hours and lots of time prosecuting, defending, judging. There’s a lot of stories there."
Dodson said that he’s looking forward to the next few weeks when workers and the public start to get acclimated to the new justice building.
"We can’t wait for everybody to get their feet under them there," he said. "We feel like it’s an appropriate building; It’s not too extravagant, but at the same time it projects the full weight of the state legal system."
Security at the existing courthouse — which as of Monday can begin to be fairly called the "old courthouse" — is lacking according to the county government and judicial administrations. Also, there’s almost no public waiting area better thought-out than a hallway there, and if a pre-hearing or pre-trial settlement is going to be hashed out between opposing parties, there may or may not be a private room to retreat to depending on who else needs one.
These issues are solved in the new justice building, Clawson and Dodson said on Saturday, as is the issue of accessibility for persons with disabilities and the ever-increasing need for more space as the county’s caseload has increased with the county’s population.
The public and the courthouse workers can expect the usual new-building issues, Dodson said. Everyone should expect issues with the new electric and communications systems, but they should expect them to be worked out quickly. There will also be a learning period for everyone while they figure out what office or courtroom is where.
"Any building certainly is going to have some of those things," he said. "We’ll have to work a few kinks out, and it is a large building … but it’ll make sense particularly over time as people grow accustomed to it."
20th Judicial Prosecutor Cody Hiland said that he and his team spent Friday and Saturday moving into their new offices in the justice building. The new building’s first jury trial is scheduled for Wednesday.
"It’s been a challenge, and we’ve still got a long way to go," Hiland said on Saturday. "There are several things that still need to happen as far as fax lines and outlets go. … But we have a full docket on Monday, and we’re hoping be functioning without too many snags."
The existing courthouse will retain its role as the county’s courthouse in several ways. Though the Circuit Clerk and County Clerk will have offices and "a presence" at the justice building, their main operations will continue to be on the first floor and in the building across Locust Street from the courthouse, respectively. Also, the county’s assessor, tax collector and county judge’s offices will be staying where they are.
Dodson said anyone who wants to know whether they need to be at the justice building or the "old" courthouse should call their judge’s case coordinator or, failing that, call either the circuit clerk or county clerk’s offices.