The Arkansas court system will remain open, but the Arkansas Supreme Court has suspended all in-person proceedings in all appellate, circuit, and district courts, with a few exceptions. The changes are a response to the spread of COVID-19.
The suspension will last from Wednesday (March 18) through April 3, and might be adjusted by order of the court as circumstances warrant. The suspension of in-person judicial proceedings is subject to the following exceptions:
• Proceedings necessary to protect the constitutional rights of criminal defendants and juveniles, including, but not limited to, criminal initial appearances; probable-cause hearings;
• Speedy trial;
• Cases in which victims are under fourteen years of age;
• Juvenile probable cause hearings;
• Juvenile detention hearings; and
• Hearings on writs of habeas corpus.
Others include proceedings in which civil or criminal jury trials are already in progress as of March 17; cases pertaining to relief from abuse; proceedings directly related to the COVID-I9 public health emergency; oral arguments regarding time-sensitive matters; and others. Additional exceptions may be approved by the chief justice. Judges shall be responsible for ensuring that core constitutional functions and rights are protected.
The administrative judge of each judicial circuit is authorized to determine the manner in which the in-person exceptions are to be implemented. Any civil proceedings conducted in person shall be limited to the attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, a press-pool representative, and other individuals necessary to the proceedings as determined by the judge presiding over the proceedings.
In criminal matters, the judge shall continue to protect the defendant’s right to a public trial. The judge presiding over the in-person proceedings shall exercise his or her discretion in excusing jurors or other individuals who shall nor appear as a result of the disease.
All judges and court clerks are encouraged to utilize all available technologies including facsimile machines, e-mail, teleconferencing, and video conferencing to continue handling judicial matters and further limit in-person courtroom appearances. Any criminal or civil rules that would impede a court clerk or judge’s ability to utilize such technologies has been suspended until April 3, and may be extended by order of this court as circumstances may warrant. Any summonses for persons to participate in jury panels are hereby suspended until May 1.
All oral arguments before the Arkansas Supreme Court and Arkansas Court of Appeals are canceled. This order does not affect a court’s ability to consider or rule on any matter that does not require an in-person court proceeding.
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. If it becomes necessary to close any courthouse during the suspension period, the administrative judge shall develop procedures for ensuring the court remains accessible by telephone and e-mail to the extent possible during regular business hours.
The Supreme Court of Arkansas should be notified immediately of the closing of any courthouse, and notice of such closings should be disseminated to the local media and posted on the courthouse doors.
Link here for a longer list of details on changes in the state’s court system.