Justice Rhonda Wood offers vision for Chief Justice, wants magistrate system to speed up trials

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 870 views 

Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood.

Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood remembered her colleague Justice Robin Wynne and outlined her vision if she is elected Chief Justice in 2024 – a vision that includes creating magistrates to make the trial process faster and more efficient in the state’s court system.

Justice Wynne died last week after being re-elected to an eight-year term in November 2022. Wood said she and Wynne had a close relationship in part due to having the same initials.

“He was a lovely, lovely man. I worked with him for ten-and-a-half years because we served on the Court of Appeals together, we came on the Supreme Court together,” she said. “We would say, ‘Hi, R.W.’ to each other because it was ‘Robin Wynne, Rhonda Wood’. People got our names confused, nobody could figure out who we were.”

“He was a man of deep faith… loved his family, always had his grandsons in his office or his dog. He was an avid reader. We exchanged books all the time… He will be deeply missed at the court,” Wood added.

Gov. Sarah Sanders is now tasked with appointing a replacement for Wynne until the November 2024 election, when a new justice can be elected.

Wood, who is running for Chief Justice against fellow Justice Karen Baker, said she has some intentional goals if she wins the post. She is seeking the seat held by Chief Justice John Dan Kemp, who is not running for another term.

Wood’s plan includes:

  • Making the court system more citizen-focused and business-friendly;
  • Implementing new tools to fight human trafficking and reduce domestic violence;
  • Continuing juvenile justice reform efforts to reduce juvenile crime and recidivism; and
  • Ensuring all Arkansans have access to fair and impartial courts; and
  • Updating criminal rules on speedy trials and reducing criminal backlogs while protecting constitutional rights.

Technology will be at the forefront of Wood’s efforts, she said on this week’s Capitol View TV program.

“It goes back to using technology the right way and making sure that people can easily access the court and have little things like they can go to a website and understand clearly this is the process,” Wood said.

She said some people can be intimidated by the court process and she wants to alleviate those concerns, such as the forms to fill out related to litigation and having uniformity among different counties and jurisdictions for consistency’s sake.

“I’m the Justice that’s the liaison for automation, so I’ve been working with our team on the rebuild of that,” Wood said. “Simple things to make it where the processes are easier for the public.”

To speed up trial dates and processes, Wood is floating the idea of creating magistrates, like the federal court system, to expedite hearings and motions.

“One, it’s getting stakeholders together and I have a proven track record of doing that,” she said. “We have the ability under Amendment 80 to create magistrates to work with circuit judges, but our Supreme Court has yet to create a rule to allow that to happen. It’s getting everyone to the table and having magistrates, similar to the federal court system, to help alleviate some of that backlog. We have to completely toss and re-write the speedy trial rule. That’s again, getting public defenders, prosecutors and judges to the table and let’s do that and work on that system.”

You can watch Wood’s full interview in the video below. Justice Baker will appear on Capitol View in an interview in early July.