District judges, county officials searching for bailiff funding solution

by Paul Holmes ([email protected]) 286 views 

Craighead County elected officials and the county’s elected district judges may soon meet to settle on how to pay for dedicated bailiffs for the district courts.

District Judges Tommy Fowler and David Boling have said for several months there is a need for bailiffs, citing incidents with potential for violence in the Craighead County courts and statewide.

Craighead County Judge Marvin Day said Wednesday he asked Fowler in April “to provide some concrete numbers” to the quorum court indicating how the estimated $140,000 cost of salaries and benefits for two bailiffs might be paid.

Fowler told Talk Business & Politics that he has provided that information in a spreadsheet indicating that a $10 increase in fines for traffic violations would generate more than $149,000 annually while a $50 hike would provide $746,000 annually.

Fowler’s figures indicate that Jonesboro officers wrote tickets in 2019 for 16,048 moving and non-moving violations, with the police departments in the county’s smaller cities wrote another 5,128 tickets. Municipalities share in providing funds to operate the district courts.

Additionally, Fowler said he and Boling have begun handling Class D felony cases that prosecutors had not filed. Prosecutors and public defenders in the county agreed to the arrangement whereby those cases – which are felony possession of drug paraphernalia counts – would be reduced to Class A misdemeanors to which defendants would agree to plead guilty, pay fines and be placed on one year’s probation.

Upon successful completion of the probation, Fowler said, those defendants could apply for an expungement of the misdemeanor charge. That would generate an anticipated $476,000 in funding at $595 per case “that would be a new revenue stream … that would never have come through” the court, Fowler said.

“The policies that Judge Boling and I have put in place put people in position to succeed rather than fail” by lowering minimums on monthly fine and cost payment plans, setting designated times for defendants who are having trouble sticking to their payment plans to talk directly with a judge, and extending amnesty periods.

“We have done that to help citizens and it has worked – our collections are up.” Fowler said.

Day said that though those sums would indeed be sufficient to pay for two bailiffs, he and the mayors of the cities prefer the district judges to put what they have proposed in place before the mayors commit to helping pay for two new county employees.

“We want them to put something in place that provides that revenue. We want to see concrete evidence that fine increases will indeed provide sufficient funding,” he said.

Currently, two Jonesboro Police Department officers are present on days when Jonesboro cases are heard, but they are not bailiffs, Fowler said, noting that he is focused on the defendants, witnesses and lawyers and not someone who might enter the courtroom in the Justice Complex with intent to harm court personnel or parties. The county has purchased a metal detector, but it sits unused outside the courtroom, he said.

Sheriff Marty Boyd has said he will send a deputy sheriff to act as a district court bailiff when he has sufficient manpower to do so. The sheriff’s department provides bailiffs for circuit court, but not for district court.

Fowler said there are days when he and Boling are holding court simultaneously in different locations, noting that district court has Jonesboro and Lake City sessions and video court for persons who have not had a bond set since their arrest and sessions for civil cases. There is a need for two bailiffs who can cover all the sessions properly.

Noting that the county has not provided permanent, dedicated bailiffs to district court, what Fowler and Boling propose represents a change.

“They’ve never had a bailiff. We need to just figure this out,” Day said. Additionally, he said, each city’s situation is unique. “We’re happy to help, but they’ve got to show us this in reality.”

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