by Max Brantley
To speed inquiries about where court proceedings can be found in the Saline County Courthouse, Circuit Clerk Dennis Milligan has installed an airport-style TV monitor. Visitors can consult it to see in which courtroom to find, say, the Webb v. Webb probate case. Saves time for office employees, Milligan figures, and makes the courthouse more accessible to people unfamiliar with the system. Local judges have agreed to provide their calendars for posting on the monitor.
BENTON, AR — Saline County Circuit Clerk Dennis Milligan said good ideas can be applied in different ways so he is taking an idea that works for airports and is applying it to the Saline County Courthouse.
“Go to the Little Rock National Airport or any airport with commercial airline service and you will find the same thing. Nobody goes to the airline counter to ask what flight they are on or what gate their plane is leaving from. There are television monitors that list all arrivals and departures. Providing this information in an easy manner saves the customers’ time because they don’t have to stand in line to get the information they want. It saves the airlines money because they don’t have to hire one or more employees to look this information up for every customer. It is a win-win situation for both,” Milligan said.
“In the circuit clerk’s office, the most frequently asked question is “Where am I supposed to be in court?” Milligan has installed a television monitor in the main lobby of the court house to answer those questions just like the arrival and departure monitors at an airport.
“People come to court because they are charged with a crime, they have been or are suing in civil court or they are a witness in a trial. They have never been in the courthouse before. They don’t know what judge is hearing the case or what courtroom the proceeding is in,” Milligan said. ”We will scroll the cases scheduled in the four different divisions on this monitor and provide quick answers to their questions.”
There are four circuit judges in Saline County. While this can be confusing enough to people who come to the court, there is information about McCallister and Circuit Judge Gary Arnold that makes it even more confusing. McCallister is the first division judge and he holds court in Courtroom 2 on the first floor of the courthouse. Arnold is the second division judge and he holds court in Courtroom 1 on the second floor.
“People coming to court — sometimes for the first time in their lives — get confused about where they need to be. My office is just trying to make their experience with the courts less confusing,” Milligan said.
McCallister, Arnold and Third Division Circuit Judge Grisham Phillips and Fourth Division Circuit Judge Robert Herzfeld have agreed to have their trial court assistants provide the circuit clerk’s office with their court calendars.
“There are days when all four judges are holding court. On those days, we can have 50 or more people or come in and ask where they are supposed to be in court and how they get there. While we gladly look up their information, it takes up their time and my staff’s time. We are just using the technology already in use at airports to provide better and quicker service to people,” Milligan said.
Milligan worked with Saline County Circuit Judge Lanny Fite to get the monitor in place and operating in the main lobby of the courthouse, which is the busiest part of the building. Fite ordered county maintenance crews to install the monitor. They will also install a cable television connection for use during emergencies.
Milligan said during times of emergencies, such as a potential tornado, the monitor can be changed over to show emergency weather information.
There is a “crawl” along the bottom of the monitor what can run important announcements.
“When Judge Fite issues a burn ban, we can run that information there. When Collector Joy Ballard has a deadline for filing taxes, we can run that information there. When Assessor Jim Crawford has a deadline for assessing personal property, we can run it there,” Milligan said. “The uses are only limited by our imaginations.”
Saline County is the first of the state’s 75 counties to use this idea. Milligan said he expects other counties to adopt this idea.
“As people around the courthouse have seen us putting up the monitor and running tests of the system, they have asked what we are doing. When they find out, almost all ask ‘Why has nobody ever thought of this before?’” Milligan said. “When you stop and think about it, this is just common sense. I predict that within two years about half the courthouses in Arkansas will be using something similar.”
This project cost less than $1,000 for everything including the 46-inch monitor from his special projects fund.
“I insisted we buy the monitor from a local business to keep tax dollars in our community,” Milligan said.
The monitor has additional information on it as the court schedules are run. The local weather forecast and the time are also on screen along with some very artistic photographs taken by Danny Harris, one of Milligan’s deputy circuit clerks.
Courthouse security has this monitor covered from more than one angle. While it would be difficult to remove the monitor from the wall, it could be done, but not without video security recording a thief’s face.
“Some people have asked what would happen if a thief wore a mask. My answer is that if someone entered the court house with a mask on, I would hope that it would raise a red flag and security would be called,” Milligan said