A federal judge who ordered an end to most of the state's required desegregation payments and then later stepped down from the case will take over as chief judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
The Helena Arkansas Daily World - Helena, AR
Updated Jul. 23, 2012 @ 5:12 pm
Updated Jul. 23, 2012 @ 5:12 pm
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A federal judge who ordered an end to most of the state's required desegregation payments and then later stepped down from the case will take over as chief judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Brian Miller, 45, begins his seven-year term on Monday, replacing J. Leon Holmes, whose term is ending. The chief judge position falls to whichever judge has the most seniority, provided that he or she is not yet 65 and has not previously held the job, clerk Jim McCormack said. Holmes, 61, said he's ready to hand the job over to Miller. "Chief judge of a district court is kind of a misnomer...." Holmes said. "You really don't have any extra authority. You're sort of the liaison between the court and the administrative side of the judiciary." Miller agreed, saying that the position is a privilege in name only. "Chief judge sounds good, but in the federal system, unless you're the chief justice of the Supreme Court, you get no more money and you get more responsibility," he said in an interview. P. K. Holmes III is the chief judge in the Western District of Arkansas. Miller ordered an end to most of Arkansas' required desegregation payments last year before recusing himself from the case, saying he could no longer make unbiased decisions after the state took over his town's school district in Helena-West Helena. A federal appeals court later ruled in December that Arkansas could not cut off millions of dollars in funding for desegregation programs in Little Rock-area school districts until the state asked a federal judge for permission to do so. The state has since asked to be released from a 1989 desegregation agreement with the school districts. It's now waiting for another federal judge to set a hearing on the matter. As chief judge, Miller's biggest challenges will likely be financial as the federal court system looks to cut costs. The Associated Press reported earlier this year that the federal government was considering closing as many as 60 court facilities, many of which are located in small, rural communities. Arkansas had six court facilities on the list, including all of the ones in the Eastern District except for Little Rock: Batesville, Helena, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff. The facilities in Harrison and Hot Springs also were on the list. Holmes has argued that closing court facilities wouldn't make a significant reduction in the federal budget. Miller, who lives in Helena-West Helena, shares that view. "Here in Helena, if they kick us out, then that space will go unused because there are many offices and other things in that building that are unused," Miller said. A decision about the future of the court sites is expected in September, but the courts in Arkansas and elsewhere will likely continue to deal with cost-cutting measures long after that. "I think that's the challenge going forward for the judiciary as a whole and specifically for our district," Holmes said.