Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

TOP STORY >>Beebe may close its court

Leader staff writer

Lawbreakers in the Beebe area may soon have to go to Searcy for their day in court. The Beebe City Council held a special meeting Friday night and gave the mayor and city attorney the go-ahead to investigate closing Beebe District Court which last year cost the city $70,000 more than the $100,000 it brought in. If the state legislature, which created the court, allows it to close, Searcy District Court would likely hear Beebe’s misdemeanor and traffic cases.

Before 1994 when the state started taking the money collected in city courts for the Administrative Justice Fund and then giving back some of it, Beebe’s court was not only self-sustaining, it also was a money maker for the city. Now, the Beebe City Council and Mayor Mike Robertson say it is a convenience that they no longer are willing to pay for, especially considering that they have no money to pave streets.

The decision to close would seem like an easy one, but Police Chief Don Inns pointed out that state troopers turn their traffic citations into the Beebe court because they are in the area. In fact, their tickets and tickets from Arkansas Game and Fish officers far outnumber the tickets that his officers write, which adds to the cost of running the court. Inns told the council that in January, his officers spent only four hours in court, which meets every week. On the plus side, the troopers are in the Beebe area, which is good for the city, Inns said. “If we say we aren’t going to take any more trooper tickets, will they be here as much?” Inns asked the council.

“We’re subsidizing cases that could be heard elsewhere,” the mayor said and warned the council that if city residents knew the extent of the subsidy, especially considering how it affects them, they would not like it. “I think if people knew that we were having to pay $60,000 for cases that are not our own, they’d be furious when they hit that pothole,” Robertson said.
Robertson said after the Friday night meeting that he doesn’t know when profit from the court started to decline or whether the decline has been steady since 1994. Paul Hill, the former city clerk, destroyed some records as allowed by state law, so the information is not available.

Robertson said this week that if the legislature approves closing the court, it probably will have to remain open until the end of 2008 when Judge Teresa Hughes’ term expires. The council is interested in closing the court only if doing so is best for the city, he said. And right now there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, including how much it will cost the city to send its cases to Searcy.