The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is the agency within the judicial branch that works to serve Arkansas’s state courts on behalf of the Arkansas Supreme Court. The agency’s mission is to support the Arkansas Judiciary and employees of the judicial branch and to assist attorneys and members of the public who rely upon an independent state court system that is efficient, accessible, and fair to all. At its inception, the agency looked very different than it does today. Although the heart of the agency remains the same, the AOC has evolved over the years to offer services to courts including alternative dispute resolution, foreign and sign language interpretation, attorneys ad litem, and many other beneficial programs in addition to its original duties.
The Administrative Office of the Courts was created with the passing of Act 496 of 1965 and was originally created to “bring up to date and maintain a current flow of statistics on the work of the courts in order that the 1967 and subsequent General Assemblies, and those interested in the work of the courts, might have reliable data upon which to base future action.” At the time, the agency was called the Judicial Department and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was appointed to be the Administrative Director. With the help of an Executive Secretary, the Chief Justice was responsible for the efficient operation of the state courts and for seeing that their business was conducted properly and in a timely manner. The role of Executive Secretary, which would later be named the Director of the AOC, was tasked with:
• Examining the administrative methods of the courts
• Collecting and analyzing the statistical data and reports of the business of the courts
• Acting as the Secretary of the Judicial Council
• Advising and assisting trial court clerks in the keeping of records of proceedings
The Judicial Department was originally housed in the basement of the Justice Building and was comprised of two staff members, including the first Executive Secretary, C.R. Huie. Over the next few years, the agency would see many changes including five Executive Secretaries (C.R. Huie, 1965 – 1979; Jim Petty, 1980; Robert Lowery, 1981 – 1984; Chris Thomas, 1985 – 1988; and J.D. Gingerich, 1988 – present), increases in staff, and improvements in the promptness and accuracy of statistical data collected from state courts. In 1989, the agency underwent a name change and became known as the Administrative Office of the Courts. During that time, the title “Executive Secretary of the Judicial Department” was also changed to “Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.”
Under the direction of J.D. Gingerich (1988 – present), the AOC has experienced tremendous growth. Act 673 of 1995 created
the Arkansas Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Commission. The ADR Commission promotes the use of mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution
to resolve disputes, cases, and controversies. Act 576 of 2007 created the Security and Emergency Preparedness division. This division is responsible for providing assistance and support to courts in adopting court security plans, providing training for court security officers, and administering grants for court security purposes. Act 328 of 2009 created the Arkansas Court Automation Programs (ACAP). ACAP provides technical support to the state courts, makes court information available to the public, and develops online, court-related services including CourtConnect, Contexte, eFiling, eTraffic, and eCitation. ACAP also provides support to the state courts through jury management.
Today, the Administrative Office of the Courts has evolved into a large, multi-faceted organization, solely dedicated to serving the judiciary, meeting the needs of its employees, and improving the administration of justice. The agency has grown from the first two employees in the basement of the Justice Building to more than 300 with the addition of circuit court trial court assistants and official court reporters in 2015. AOC employees now operate from more than three different locations. From its initial days of strictly collecting statistical data, the AOC now offers a myriad of services to those it serves including continuing legal education opportunities for court staff, court mediation, support for domestic violence victims, foreign and sign language interpretation, technical support, civics education and outreach, attorneys ad litem, court appointed special advocates (CASA), legal research, court security, and of course, statistical data collection.