Wednesday, September 21, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Cabot court near a deal?

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert and District Judge Joe O’Bryan may be nearing a compromise that would restore probation services to the community.

The mayor and judge will meet Thursday to decide on a probation company. Cypert says when the judge picks a new company to hire, the city can have probation services within 30 days.

Jeffrey Everetts, who provided probation services for O’Bryan, was arrested four months ago for sexual assault and other charges, including sexually assaulting probationers he was supervising. Since then, Cabot’s court has not sentenced anyone to probation, and anyone who had been on probation was released from oversight.

It is the only court in The Leader’s coverage area that does not have a probation system in place, but that may soon change.

The judge ignored the mayor’s proposal in June to hire Pro Trac Development after the city fired Everetts. The mayor hadn’t heard from O’Bryan about the plan and said the judge prefers another company, Southwest Probation Services of Arkadelphia. Cypert said that is good enough for him, too, and that “the city of Cabot is committed to getting probation services back.”

The judge may not have been in much of a hurry to restart probation services because the court has done surprisingly well without it: Revenue has increased some and people are paying fines at higher rates than before probation was ended.

Cypert believes that privatizing probation services is practical and can be executed responsibly despite the recent problems. Before hiring a company to track probationers, the city was spending $110,000 annually on two full-time employees to do the job.

A private company receives no money from the city. Instead, probationers pay a monthly fee to the company while they complete their sentences.

Restarting the court’s probation is a good first step in rebuilding the community’s confidence.

A little more than a year ago, O’Bryan was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend, who accused him of attacking her in a drunken rage. She later dropped charges, but that incident made people wonder if O’Bryan is fit for the job.

O’Bryan was suspended from the bench while his assault case was pending, but once it was dismissed, he was given his robe and gavel back by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which handles judicial disciplinary matters.

All of this comes amid a runoff election set for Nov. 8 between the judge and his opponent, Ward City Attorney Clint McGue, who topped O’Bryan back in March and who says he wants to end the stalemate in Cabot’s court. Sheriff John Staley is also eager to have probation services restored.

The Cabot City Council needs to invite O’Bryan to present his plan for hiring a new probation services provider and describe the types of miscreants who are now unsupervised.