Supreme Court to Stop Paying Counties for Use of Courtrooms
By Adrianna Iwasinski, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Supreme Court has put county commissioners on notice that come next year it will not pay to use the courtroom facilities.
The letter was sent earlier this month to give county governments enough notice to adjust their budgets to make up for the loss of revenue.
The news comes as a blow to counties already struggling to cut their budgets.
Many counties are in shock that the Supreme Court can refuse to pay them for the use of their courthouses and all the services that come with them.
"My exact words were I was flabbergasted," said Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel.
Sheriff Whetsel was first made aware of the letter at last week's budget board meeting. He said he wished the Supreme Court would have tried to work with county governments before throwing down the gauntlet.
"I guess what I found really kind of offensive was the fact that this was a unilateral decision that was made without any input, without any discussion with the county budget board, with county government and it impacts all 77 counties," Sheriff Whetsel said.
Michael Evans, the Administrative Director of the Courts, wrote the letter and disagrees. He said the Supreme Court is not immune to budget cuts either and though the decision is a tough one, it is at the Justices' discretion to make it.
"And as I look towards next year realizing that we will have less money than we did this year, I want our counties to have an adequate opportunity to get prepared for the possibility that we will no longer be able to pay these expenses as we have in the past," Evans said.
Oklahoma County alone spends almost $700,000 a year to provide the basic necessities for courts to operate including water, sewer, lights, air, phones and security. Right now, the Supreme Court pays $600,000 of that which is $600,000 the county would be without come 2012. But Sheriff Whetsel plans to fight it and said he'll cut services if he has to.
"I hope it never gets there but obviously it is not our responsibility to fund the state court system…bottomline," the Oklahoma County Sheriff said.
Sheriff Whetsel has already contacted lawmakers and it will be up to legislators to make sure the Supreme Court receives the funding it needs to pay for these court costs.