"The Public Defender for Fulton and Izard County has quit," Judge Tim Weaver glumly announced as court began. "We will be doing arraignments only today."
That meant there was no action in the cases of eleven defendants facing criminal charges. With no attorney to represent them, their cases were moved to either the September or October court dockets.
Jim Pedigo, at attorney from the Mountain Home Public Defender's Office, stood in as new defendants without attorneys were formally charged.
Pedigo also helped defendants, who cannot afford an attorney, fill out forms requesting a public defender be appointed. But those who qualify will not get legal assistance until a new public defender is named for Fulton and Izard Counties.
The court session ended earlier than usual and, afterward, Judge Tim Weaver told The News, "This really messes things up. You saw we didn't get much done today."
Weaver has no control over the Public Defenders Office, but plans to let it know how important it is for a replacement to be appointed quickly.
"Even though this will not be a new hire and they are just replacing someone, they say it could be November before the position is filled. That would be catastrophic," said Weaver.
Having no public defender means no action on many cases, as Judge Weaver struggles to manage a large case load, and get most cases settled within one year, as Arkansas law requires.
Shane Ethridge, who has served as Fulton and Izard County Public Defender for the past year, said he "loved the job but they wouldn't buy me a helicopter."
Reached by phone, Ethridge explained he lives in Hot Springs, so, on court days, he spent eight hours on the road, in addition to long days in court and meeting with clients.
With a wife and a three year old, Ethridge decided it was best to concentrate on his private law practice in Hot Springs
"Hopefully, they have some one sort of picked out to replace me, but I haven't seen the job posted Online yet," said Ethridge.
Judge Weaver said he hopes the Public Defender's office is able to find someone who lives closer to the area.
Ethridge expressed the same hope, although he pointed out finding a public defender with ties to this area is apparently not easy. The public defender Ethridge replaced lived in Jonesboro.
Ethridge does not represent either defendant, but the murder cases of Pablo Gonzalez and Diego Villonueva were continued to Sept. 12.
Gonzalez and Villonueva are charged with the Oct. 2010 murder of Jesus Meza, a co-worker at the Seņor Carlos Restaurant in Salem.
Gonzalez is scheduled for trial on Sept. 13. His case was continued because his attorney, Patrick Benca, was not present to represent him.
Villonueva was supposed to go on trial in June. His attorneys, who were present, also asked for a continuance.
Because an interpreter was sent to court to communicate with Villonueva, there had been speculation that Villanueva was considering accepting a plea agreement, instead of going to trial.
Villonueva's attorney indicated she wanted a continuance because Gonzalez's case was delayed and the two cases are so closely entwined.
Kankey Motion Decision
|A Fulton County animal cruelty case may be heading to the Arkansas Supreme Court.||The attorney for Rodney Kankey, the owner of more than 100 horses seized in December of 2010, filed a motion challenging a District Court ruling, awarding custody of the horses to the ASPCA.|
Attorney John Russo asked Judge Weaver to reconsider his decision upholding Judge Jim Short's ruling.
According to Russo, District Court did not have jurisdiction in the case, since the horses were worth more than $5000, so Judge Short's decision was "null and void."
Following a short hearing on Aug. 23, Judge Weaver denied Russo's motion to reconsider.
Russo gave notice he would file an appeal with the Arkansas Supreme Court.