Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

TOP STORY >>Two file for seat as judge in Cabot

Leader staff writer

Two candidates have announced for judge of the Cabot district court that functions like a municipal court for most of northern Lonoke County.

Judge Joe O’Bryan, who was first elected in 1990, is running for re-election, and Kenneth R. “Ken” Williams, a member of the Cabot City Council who has served as a district judge in Lonoke and as Cabot city attorney, is the challenger.

District courts have jurisdiction over misdemeanor cases, violations of city ordinances, traffic violations and civil matters with not more than $5,000 in controversy. A small-claims division of the district court makes it possible for citizens to represent themselves in civil-claims cases.

Williams announced his candidacy late Friday evening after first talking to O’Bryan.

“I’m not running against Joe O’Bryan. I’m running for that seat,” Williams said.

O’Bryan has been unopposed for the position since he first ran 17 years ago, when the court was still a municipal court. He announced Monday that he will seek re-election as judge of the District Court of Lonoke County, Northern Division, which includes the courts at Cabot and Ward, as well as the northern Lonoke County area.

Like the races for circuit judge, the races for district judge are nonpartisan. Candidates’ names will be on both the Republican and Democratic ballots for the May primary. The winners in that election will take office in January 2009.
Joe O’Bryan

O’Bryan graduated from Cabot High School in 1967 and from Baylor Law School in 1973. He has been an attorney in the Cabot area for 33 years. He was elected judge in 1991.

“The unprecedented growth of the city of Cabot and northern Lonoke County has brought about many changes in the operation of the court,” O’Bryan said. “During the past decade, the number of cases decided by the district court has increased dramatically, and the annual revenue handled through the court has increased four fold in fines, costs and restitution to victims.”

To keep up with the increased case load, a computerized docketing system has replaced the traditional record keeping system previously used. The court is now served by three court clerks in Cabot and one in Ward.

Another change that has occurred during O’Bryan’s tenure as judge has been the expansion of community service as a means for those unable to pay their fines to settle their balances.

Additionally, the district court has for several years sponsored defensive driving classes for young traffic offenders as well as special programs for persons arrested in domestic battery situations.

“It is impossible to estimate how many tragic accidents have been prevented, or how many families have reunited or at least managed to avoid violent episodes, as a result of these programs,” O’Bryan said. “The best estimate I can make is education works in some situations, while in others, it will not.”

The district court recently implemented a video system that allows jailed defendants to appear in court without being physically transported to the courtroom. 

“This new system has two advantages,” O’Bryan said. “It saves manpower by conserving the police transport time as well as increasing security.”

O’Bryan hopes to expand the video appearance system soon to include the Lonoke County jail.

O’Bryan also added a probation department to both the Cabot and Ward courts, staffed by two probation officers, making it possible to order special conditions of probation appropriate to the specific case such as drug testing, counseling, anger management classes, GED testing, community service work, jail requirements, AA and NA meetings, and fine/restitution payments.

O’Bryan has three children, Jessica Wallace of Little Rock, and Stephanie O’Bryan and Eric O’Bryan, both of Cabot.
Ken Williams

A Cabot resident since 1994, Williams has already been elected to public office there twice. He is a member of the city council, and before that, he served three years as city attorney.

Like many city residents, Williams moved to Cabot because he and his wife Debbie both worked in Little Rock.

A native of McGehee, Williams graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a degree in political science and later earned a law degree from the University of Denver School of Law. He has been licensed in both Colorado and Arkansas since 1988.

After passing the bar, he joined the Air Force, where he served as a JAG officer until 1992.

His military service included duties as a prosecutor in both military and civilian courts. He was appointed as special assistant United States attorney for the purpose of prosecuting civilian offenders in federal court. Later, he was also appointed as area defense counsel providing criminal defense services to military members.

After military service, Williams worked as an attorney specialist for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. His duties there included trial and appellate practice in state-tax law cases. In 1999, he was named deputy executive director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission. In that capacity he was responsible for cases involving judicial misconduct resulting in discipline or removal of state court judges.

In 2002, Gov. Mike Huckabee appointed Williams judge of the district court (formerly municipal court) in Lonoke. While serving in that capacity, Williams was city attorney in Cabot until 2005.

Williams has two children, Brandon, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas, and Kaylee, a junior at Cabot High School.