Judge candidates for the Arkansas Supreme Court and other circuit court races discussed current issues facing the state’s judicial branch during a forum hosted by the UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law on Sunday, Feb. 9.
State Supreme Court associate justice candidates Barbara Womack Webb and Judge Chip Welch shared their most pressing concerns they’d address if elected to serve on the bench.
Welch, a current state circuit judge, said judges must work to treat those who enter the courtroom the same, whether they have legal counsel or not.
“We have to learn to treat folks equally and fairly when they’re not in court with a lawyer, while at the same time giving a fair trial to the people who do,” Welch said. “You know, you can’t favor one party over another. But you have to speak English to people when they come into your court and they don’t speak Latin.”
Webb, the current chief administrative judge for the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission, said judges need to take advantage of technology to make the courts better for everyone.
“The courts in Arkansas need to embrace new technologies and bring new technology into the courtrooms of Arkansas,” Webb said. “Through the new technology, those records will be accountable [and] the judiciary will be accountable to the public. We’ll have more transparency, we’ll have prompter decisions, more effective courts, and a lower cost to our citizens.”
Candidates for circuit court races also spoke at the forum. Scott Richardson, Casey Tucker, and Hugh Finkelstein are running to replace retiring Judge Chris Piazza of the state’s sixth circuit.
Finkelstein, a former district judge for the Little Rock district court’s first division, said the courts need to offer more times to hear cases to help witnesses who work outside the courts.
“Stagger the dockets,” Finkelstein said. “That’s for everyone. It’s for the parties and especially for the witnesses. If you’re sitting there at a 9 o’clock with everybody else and you’re a teacher, a social worker, or whatever your job is, you need to get in, be heard, and go back to your job. And you can’t do that when everyone is sitting there at 9 o’clock.”
Tucker, a lawyer from Little Rock, said the delays in sending cases to trials should improve to cut down on the cost of lawyers for everyone in the courtroom and those outside it.
“We can do a better job with the time it takes to get a case to trial,” Tucker said. “I believe a good judge will set a case fast and get it moving to trial. That’s because most of the costs with lawyers involved is extreme delays and needless motions. You want a judge who will aim the parties in the right direction and not waste time getting there. Doing that will save so much money for all involved and the community.”
Election day for all nonpartisan judicial races, as well as legislative primaries and the Republican and Democratic U.S. presidential primaries are set for March 3.