By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
EL RENO – While public access to the Canadian County Courthouse is restricted, District Court Clerk Marie Hirst is making sure her office remains accessible to citizens.
All courthouses across Oklahoma have been ordered closed due to COVID-19. That includes Canadian County’s judicial building, 301 N Choctaw, where the court clerk’s office occupies much of the first floor.
“People expect us to be here,” Hirst said. “We’re still available by phone, fax, email, or mailing.
“We’re keeping everything caught up. We’re filing and scanning documents.”
Since citizens are unable to come to the courthouse, the court clerk’s office is seeing more documents sent through the mail and filed electronically.
Normally, about 600 people a day come through Canadian County’s Judicial Building. It’s quiet now.
“We’ve put off all hearing dates way into May – and it may end up being until June or July,” said Hirst, who’s been Canadian County’s elected court clerk for 12 years.
“The only things we’re doing are emergency VPOs (victim’s protective orders). Judges are doing video conferences on arraignments. We’re also doing a lot more OR (own recognizance) bonds.”
Sheriff’s deputies have been asked not to arrest people who have warrants for unpaid fines and court fees, but instead have those defendants contact the court clerk’s office to set up payment arrangements.
“We started that before this (pandemic), but am really pushing it now,” Hirst said. “For people who are having a difficult time and can’t make their payments, we can push the payments out several months.”
Payments may be made by check or with a credit card over the phone.
Canadian County’s court clerk said her office has long needed a “drop box” for the public to access from the outside. She noted some residents don’t have checking accounts so they must make payments by cash.
“Or they don’t have a means to travel here,” Hirst said. “I understand their dilemma. We’re not here to be mean. We’re here to help.”
District court officials are doing their best not to issue warrants unless it involves a serious offense.
Meanwhile, the Canadian County Court Clerk’s Office is not offering marriage licenses since they are considered “non-essential” during the state’s emergency disaster declaration. Passport services also have been suspended.
OFFICE STAFF SELF-QUARANTINES
The Canadian County Court Clerk Office’s 24-member staff is taking turns quarantining at home during the health crisis to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Thirteen employees including Chief Deputy Karen Fox are out of the office on a two-week self-quarantine.
This group is due to return to the judicial building on April 13 when the other 11 employees led by Court Clerk Hirst will leave to start their two-week quarantine. Hirst can work from home and troubleshoot problems from a distance.
“We have a game plan,” she said. “If one of my employees tests positive, the office would shut down and our maintenance personnel would do a deep cleaning of the office. Then the other half that was on quarantine would come in.”
By dividing up the staff into two “teams,” the entire court clerk’s office wouldn’t be incapacitated if one employee caught the virus.
“We want to keep up and running to serve the needs of the public,” said Hirst, who’s been at the court clerk’s office for 24 years. “Everybody in the office is cross-trained. That’s a big plus.”
For more information, call the Canadian County Court Clerk’s Office at (405) 295-6157.