Helena-West Helena’s District Court disbanded by city mayor

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The District Court Office in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas was disbanded Friday and all six employees were terminated effective immediately, the city's mayor said in a letter.

Mayor Kevin Smith said the office was being reorganized, and employees were encouraged to reapply for their jobs.

"Ultimately, it's about protecting the citizens of Helena-West Helena and making sure that their system of criminal justice is fair and has a high degree of integrity," Smith said.

The Helena-West Helena City Council called a special meeting at noon Monday to address the matter.

The mayor, who took office in January disbanded the court because of an audit released late last year, saying it is a matter of record that the division itself has had some serious problems.

The report was done by the state's Legislative Joint Auditing Committee. Among other things, it talks about thousands of dollars the court didn't account for.

Money came up missing and employees were working other jobs while they were still on the clock.

But perhaps the biggest allegation in the report has to do with the court clerk. It says she was getting paid a full-time salary but only working six-hour days.

The mayor says the audit's findings are currently being investigated by the Arkansas State Police.

Linda Hayden showed up for work Friday morning but wound up unemployed within minutes. She's one of six Helena-West Helena District Court employees fired.

"It was totally surprising," she said.  "It's tough but I'm a strong believer in God. I keep the faith."

Hayden worked in the court for seven years but claims she never saw any of the issues mentioned in the audit.

"I can't say what I don't know. I ain't never seen that happen," she said.

The court, which primarily handles traffic tickets and misdemeanor crimes, will re-open Monday with temporary staff.

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