Get to know Judge Van Gearhart, district court judge in Baxter County.
How long have you worked for the Judicial Branch?
I was elected Baxter County District Judge in 1994 and have served for more than 20 years. I am honored that I was just elected to serve as President of the Arkansas District Judges Council for 2015-16. I am also serving as Chairman of the Board of Law Examiners.
Did you always want to work in the courts?
Not really. I began practicing law in 1975 in a small 3-person firm in Mountain Home. I enjoyed trial practice and after appearing before numerous judges for many years, I made the decision to run for District Judge. I am glad I did, as I enjoy serving as District Judge.
How did you end up where you are? What was your major in college?
I grew up in Fayetteville and graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration. I received a JD in 1975. While in law school, I participated in a summer clerkship with then Prosecuting Attorney, Terry Poynter, in Mountain Home. He offered me a job upon graduation and I have been here ever since. My wife and I have two adult children (and 2 grandchildren) and we love living in Mountain Home.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in your current position?
I would still be practicing law.
What’s your favorite memory from working in the court system?
It has to be working with my very capable staff over the past 20 years. Our court clerks and probation officers do the bulk of the work. Everyone I have worked with has been a top professional. I am prejudiced, but we have the best court personnel in the State.
What’s the most significant change you’ve seen in the Judicial Branch during your years of
It is the big leap from part-time District Judges to full-time State District Judges. I was part of the Pilot program in 2008 wherein 19 judges became full-time state employees. We now have 38 State District Judges, with 16 more in 2017 and 11 more in 2021, for a total of 65 judges. It is a very good plan and enhances a true, third tier of the judiciary.
What do you think is the biggest problem facing courts today?
It’s always about the money. Budgets are tight and the jails are full. It is frustrating when there are not many alternatives to jail for drug and alcohol offenders. Rehabilitation facilities are difficult to find because of the expense.
When you’re not at work, what do you like to do?
I am an avid hiker and enjoy golf and boating. I am fortunate to live on a golf course and near Lake Norfork. And the best hiking, around the Buffalo River, is not far.
What advice do you have for the younger generations of court employees?
Be respectful and courteous to the public even though many of them will not reciprocate. The reality is that some of the offenders we see in court are “frequent flyers” and don’t do what they are ordered. It is important to remain professional—even when you would like to scream at a contemptuous defendant.