COUNTY JUDGE BARRY HYDE

Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde seems ready for a legal fight with the 17 circuit judges in the county over taking control of the juvenile intake and probation officers.

The Arkansas Blog first reported last week that Hyde planned to move ahead next week to ask the Quorum Court next week for approval of hiring a supervisor of the 22 juvenile intake and probation employees, who currently work under the direction of three juvenile judges in carrying out orders handed down in those courts.

Judge Vann Smith, chief administrative judge, wrote in behalf of all judges of what he understood to be an inability of judges to speak at the Quorum Court meeting and also of the need for more discussion. Typically, Quorum Court agenda items are discussed only by the members of the county governing body, with any debate having occurred earlier at the committee level.

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Smith also noted that state law states clearly that probation officers are employees of the judges, not the county. In a subsequent article in the Democrat-Gazette, juvenile judges expressed resistance to Hyde’s idea.

Hyde wouldn’t return my calls on the dispute, but he has now responded to Smith in a letter he distributed today to judges, prosecuting attorney, public defender and others. He said first, that it might be possible for the judges to be heard at the Quorum Court meeting on the proposal. He also said the court had the discretion to refer it back to committee for a broader discussion.

But most of his letter is devoted to his authority over juvenile employees. He sets out a view — disputed by the judges — that the constitutional amendment on county government effectively supersedes the state statute by giving elected county judges the power to hire county employees, except those hired by other county officials.

He wrote:

Hyde added that his director of juvenile services would work with the judges on “best practices” to “promote healthy adolescent development and improved public safety outcomes.”

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The new position will “provide structure” to juvenile services, Hyde wrote. He spoke again of reports that found shortcomings in the Pulaski County system, in part, he said, because judges don’t have time to adequately supervise the probation staff.

He closed, “In short, three separate studies have identified the structure of our juvenile probation system as detrimental to Pulaski County’s juveniles. The creation of this position is an attempt to address the ‘dysfunction’ identified in these reports. Over the last year, the county has attempted to address this issue. I appreciate the circuit judges’ desire to be heard on this position and hope that we can work together to provide Pulaski County juveniles with the kind of system they deserve.”

Other county officials in the past have challenged dictates in law to counties related to court operations. Generally, the courts have won.

What next? We’ll see Tuesday night. If Hyde moves ahead with his takeover of juvenile services, a court dispute seems likely.

Here’s his letter.

Hyde also is effectively challenging the legislature here, too, with a plan that could have application statewide by overriding a statute. He tried to get the law changed in the last legislative session, but a potential sponsor, Sen. Will Bond, dropped the bill because of the judges’ opposition.

PS: For those who might be confused, a county judge is not a judge but the chief administrative officer of a county. Those duties include operating the courthouse,  overseeing the road and bridge department and providing facilities for other elected officials, such as the clerk, treasurer, assessor and prosecutor.