By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
The Canadian County Courthouse is open as judges can hear emergency matters, all jury trials set in April have been postponed and telephone and video conferencing are being encouraged.
These are among new procedures in place at the courthouse, 301 N Choctaw in El Reno, in response to the cororavirus pandemic.
District Court Clerk Marie Hirst read information provided by the Canadian County Bar Association during an emergency Canadian County Commissioners’ meeting on March 17 in El Reno.
County commissioners met with other department directors and officers to discuss temporary policies for Canadian County government offices.
Hirst read the procedures, which were announced earlier that day by Canadian County district judges Paul Hesse and Jack McCurdy in accordance with a first emergency joint order regarding the COVID-19 state of disaster. The joint order was issued with week by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
Gov. Kevin Stitt on March 15 issued an executive order declaring an emergency in all 77 Oklahoma counties “caused by the impending threat of COVID-19 to the people of the state.”
The joint order was issued to “clarify procedures to be followed in all Oklahoma district courts and to encourage social distancing and to avoid risks to judges, court clerks, court employees and the public.”
All courts may limit the number of people who enter any courtroom, judges’ or clerk’s office, jury room or any other facility used by the district courts, according to the joint order from Oklahoma’s highest courts.
Canadian County District Court is one of the largest in Oklahoma. These are the new procedures announced by Judge McCurdy and Judge Hesse effective March 17:
- The Canadian County Courthouse is open, and the judges are available to hear emergency matters.
- Only the lawyers, parties and witnesses who will testify are allowed in the courthouse.
- All other in-person proceedings will be handled on a case-by-case basis by the assigned Judge.
- All jury trials have been postponed until May 4.
- Civil and criminal non-jury trial settings, hearings, and pretrial settings before May 1 should be rescheduled.
- Telephone conferencing and video conferencing are strongly encouraged.
- Pro se litigants and defendants (those without attorneys) will be given a new court date.
Regarding criminal matters:
- Criminal arraignments and bond hearings will be conducted by video in the courtroom.
- Defendants in the Canadian County Jail will only be brought to the courthouse for pleas where they are sentenced to time served and will get out of jail the day they are sentenced, or when defendants will be transported to the state Department of Corrections.
- The jail has a designated room where attorneys may meet with their clients.
- Bondspersons can post a bond in Canadian County for those defendants who are arrested in another county for a Canadian County warrant.
- All telephone calls requesting continuances were granted for the March 18th traffic docket. All other cases were continued when the defendant appeared.
- Pleadings can be filed by mail, fax or email to firstname.lastname@example.org and filing fees can be paid by credit card. Mail is encouraged.
- Appearances by anyone over 60 years and those with underlying health issues are strongly discouraged.
- Anyone feeling ill or having flu-like symptoms should not enter the courthouse.
- Everyone in the courthouse should practice “social distancing”.
As the information and guidance regarding the coronavirus pandemic is rapidly evolving and changing, these orders will be updated and modified as necessary.
Canadian County District Court judges appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding and welcome all suggestions that ensure the just and speedy determination of proceedings – but also protects the parties, courthouse employees, witnesses and lawyers who appear in court.
If anyone has any questions, they should contact the assigned judge’s bailiff.