Arkansas’ third branch of government is joining Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the General Assembly in reaching out to constituents across the state on social media platforms, state court officials said Monday (Oct. 30).
On Friday (Oct. 27), the Administrative Office of the Courts established social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Marty Sullivan, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), said the new accounts under the @arcourts tagline are intended to assist those interested in judiciary-related events, will issue Supreme Court opinions and orders, and distribute other information about the Arkansas judiciary and justice system.
“Social media is a tremendous opportunity to improve communications with the public,” Sullivan told Talk Business & Politics. “My goal is to be as transparent as possible, so I look at social media as an extension of our website.”
Sullivan said he also hopes the AOC’s social media platforms will serve as an educational tool for Arkansas students and citizens interested in state government at all levels. For example, Sullivan said he hopes to post different events taking place at the Arkansas Justice Building, the round, glass-enclosed structure on the west side of the State Capitol groups that was dedicated by the high court in 1976.
At the building’s courtroom, the seven Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments and announce decisions each Thursday at 9 a.m. during the term of court, which usually commences the first Tuesday after Labor Day and continues until mid-July of the following year. The Court of Appeals convenes on Wednesday mornings at 9 a.m. and its term coincides mostly with that of the Supreme Court.
“The public may appreciate hearing about things that the members of the court do. The Court of Appeals, they get hundreds of visitors each year in the Justice Building from Boys State and Girls State to leadership groups from all over the state, and school groups that come in almost on a weekly basis,” Sullivan said. “So, it is really good if you use it correctly. It is an opportunity show people all the comings and goings of the building.”
Under Chief Justice Dan Kemp, who was sworn in as the state’s top judge in January, Sullivan said his office has taken note of the how social media is impacting courts across the nation. Along with Gov. Hutchinson’s and the state House and Senate’s vibrant Twitter and Facebook feeds, all three branches of state government will now have social media outreach programs, he said.
“Most courts now around the country are on social media,” Sullivan said, citing a recent study showing 25% of the federal courts and 50% of highest appellate courts and their administrative offices now use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
After announcing the state’s new social media program, the AOC’s first Twitter post was a “this day in history” note citing that the first Federalist Paper was published by the nation’s founding fathers in Oct. 27, 1787. The Federalist Papers were a series of 85 essays urging the citizens of New York to ratify the new U.S. Constitution. Written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, the essays originally appeared anonymously in New York newspapers in 1787 and 1788 under the pen name “Publius.”
The @arcourts Twitter feed also posted a copy of the 2016 annual report of the Arkansas Judiciary, which includes a message from Chief Justice Kemp that the highlights steps the court is taking to improve transparency across all the state’s courts. One of Kemp’s initiatives included appointing the judiciary’s first strategic planning committee, which includes judges and court personnel from across the state.
“Arkansas courts continue to evolve to meet the needs of the public,” said Kemp, who was sworn in as Arkansas’ chief justice in January. “[We] have already begun the process of creating and publishing an overall strategic plan for the state judiciary that encompasses strategic goals through 2025. Among these will be an emphasis on further updating our court technology infrastructure and bringing additional courts into the e-filing system.”
In the past year, e-filing has been implemented in an additional five circuits and in one district court. According to Kemp, the Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals have entered phase two of the implementation process with e-filing in district courts in Faulkner and Van Buren counties.
“While the judiciary has made significant strides in modernizing our courts, we must constantly strive to provide better and more efficient solutions for the public, our judges, the courts’ staff, and the attorneys across the state,” Kemp said. “Improvements to the jury and case-management systems are a particularly high priority in the coming years.”