Amid concerns surrounding the novel coronavirus outbreak, Van Buren County District Court officials have canceled and rescheduled upcoming hearings.

District judges David L. Reynolds and Chris R. Carnahan rescheduled multiple hearings in Faulkner and Van Buren counties after previously canceling proceedings scheduled through spring break in Faulkner County because the Arkansas Supreme Court has since ruled that all in-person proceedings in appellate, circuit and district courts are suspended through April 3.

The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a per curiam order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which implemented additional emergency precautions to prevent putting the public at an unnecessary risk of spreading or being exposed to the coronavirus.

Once the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended against gatherings of more than 10 people, the Arkansas Supreme Court implemented stricter safety procedures.

“Despite the suspension of in-person court proceedings, Arkansas courts still must continue to carry out the core, constitutional functions of the Arkansas judiciary as prescribed by law and continue to uphold the constitutional rights of litigants seeking redress in any Arkansas court,” the order signed by Chief Justice John Dan Kemp reads in part. “Each Administrative Judge should work with local law enforcement and county agencies to ensure that, to the extent possible, courthouses remain accessible to carry out essential constitutional functions and time-sensitive proceedings.”

The Arkansas Supreme Court has also ruled that anyone summoned to participate in a jury panel is “hereby suspended [from duty] until Friday, May 1.”

In response to the Arkansas Supreme Court’s per curiam order, district judges in the Ninth Judicial District have adjusted the following hearings in Van Buren County:

All plea and arraignment hearings scheduled for April 2 will now be held on May 20.

Civil cases set for April 15 will now be held on May 28.

First appearance hearings will continue as usual so that a bond can be set in each case. These hearings are held at 1:30 p.m. on Mondays and at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. Typically, these hearings are open to the public. However, officials said they will be closed to the public until further notice.

“These hearings will be closed to be public until the crisis abates,” district court officials announced Thursday. “However, should an alternate means of broadcasting the hearings become economically feasible, the Court will post notices on the Courthouse door and to the Media on how to observe these hearings.”

For a full list of court-related cancellations from across the state, visit www.arcourts.gov/news/judiciary-closings-cancellations-changes.

Van Buren County Sheriff Lucas Emberton released a statement on March 16 saying that several safety restrictions have been imposed at the county jail to prevent spreading COVID-19 among inmates.

“As concerns related to the COVID-19 are on the rise, [I have] made a difficult but necessary decision to place restrictions on those entering the Van Buren County Detention Center,” the sheriff said in a news release. “This decision has been made solely in the interest of public safety, safety of our employees and detainees, and to reduce the risk of the introduction and spread of COVID-19 into our facilities.”

Recently imposed safety restrictions include:

Limitations on non-personnel entering the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office. The front gate will also be locked to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering the facility.

All individuals entering the jail (officers, deputies, offenders, etc.) must be approved by Sheriff Emberton or Chief Deputy Randy Churches. Arrestees and other individuals will have their temperature taken and must complete a questionnaire/health screening to determine if they are a health risk.

In-person and in-house kiosk visitations are temporarily suspended.

Bond agents will not be allowed inside the jail to speak with detainees, and bond paperwork must be completed in the lobby. The paperwork cannot be faxed in.

“As this situation evolves, the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office administration will adjust protocols – always keeping in mind public safety and health and well-being of our staff and detainees,” Emberton said.

Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at mhicks@thecabin.net.

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