From its inception, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has existed to serve the courts of Arkansas. It was created to collect and report statistic data but through the years has evolved into a full-service support system for judges and their court staffs. As we celebrate 50 years of this service, we turn to these members of the judiciary to give them the opportunity to share what the AOC has meant to them.
From the Beginning
Many of our judges remember the days when the AOC was a much smaller agency than it is today. Although it had grown from a staff of two in the basement of the Justice Building, it still employed considerably few employees and therefore was “an excellent resource for judges” but “not as diversified and responsive as today.”
Evolution of Service
Over the years, the AOC has changed “in response to all of the new challenges in the Judiciary.” The support offered to Arkansas court staff has evolved. From the beginning, the AOC existed as a “source of information and support and remains so today.” As the agency grew, so did its services. It is able to “respond more quickly both to inquiries and to notices of interest sent to judges across the state” while remaining “one of the most reliable sources of information on what’s going on in the legislative and executive branches that may impact the Judiciary.”
Today, the AOC provides many services that are relatively new to the Judiciary but invaluable to judges. These services include “the interpreter division [which] has grown in response to the increased need in the trial courts for interpreters of many different languages, as well as for the hearing impaired” and “the AOC’s responsiveness to providing judges with thoughtful ideas, which advance the cause of justice.” Many courts utilize the “AAL, Parent Counsel, CASA and CIP” programs and since many state judges do not have law clerks, they often call on AOC staff to aid them their legal research.
There have been many significant changes to the Judiciary during this time as well, the most significant being the creation of “Amendment 80” and its effect of “benefit[ing] the citizens while making the Judiciary more efficient and stronger” and the “increase of women and minorities serving in all levels of the Judiciary.”
The AOC is often times a silent supporter, operating in the background and through that support helps the Judiciary “maintain a fairly cohesive, organized, and identifiable branch of government” while keeping abreast of “all things impacting the Judiciary and promptly disseminat[ing] information to all judges.” Many judges agree that it is the people of the AOC that are its greatest assets and “help judges throughout the state of Arkansas on a day-to-day basis in a myriad of ways – always in the most professional and pleasant manner… these people are significant contributors to the Judiciary each and every day.”
It’s difficult to predict what the AOC will look like in the future. With the increased push to court automation and technological advances, it’s likely to be very different. But one thing is certain, “the agency will continue to provide valuable supportive services and thereby assist in maintaining a modern, responsive, and efficient Judiciary.” And while the faces of the agency may change, “as long as there are committed staff members and a Director who view their top responsibility to serve the courts, the AOC will remain a premiere state agency.” The future is very bright, indeed.