Okla. County Judges Hold Hearings; Citizens, Attorneys Worry About Public Health Risk
Some Oklahoma County citizens and their attorneys are worried they may come in contact with COVID-19 after appearing in court. Judges were holding hearings on Wednesday despite the public health concerns.
Notices posted around the courthouse explain the Oklahoma Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals COVID-19 emergency guidelines that limits hearings and who can be in a courtroom. A notice was also sent out that states all non-emergency hearings were continued to April or longer.
The concern over the coronavirus has made a normally packed courthouse noticeably quiet.
“I’ve been in the building for almost 41 years,” said Ray Elliott, Presiding Administrative Judge. “I’ve never seen it this quiet on any day.”
Jury trials have come to a halt, but Elliott said business must continue in some courtrooms, including his.
“Basically, it boils down to criminals or people accused of crimes that are in-custody,” said Elliott. “We are holding those hearings pretty much as normal. Virtually everything else is being continued with the exception of what’s deemed emergency matters.”
He means emergencies that involve domestic and custody violence, guardianship and mental health issues. Possibly even eviction situations.
“If the landlord is alleging there’s a meth lab in the apartment or house,” said Elliott. “That would potentially burn the property down then that would be considered an emergency.”
Being in the courthouse during a public health crisis is uncomfortable for some including an expectant mother who came to her husband’s court hearing.
“Yeah it’s a little scary,” said Sophia Elrhoul, Oklahoma County resident. “I mean everything is closed but courts not closed. That’s a little frustrating to have to deal with. Sad, scary.”
Most judges were not allowing anyone besides attorneys and clients in the courtrooms and sending friends or family to wait in the hallways.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater sent News 9 a statement regarding their continued court work.
The DA's office is open, our team is in the office, working for those who rely on us to serve them. We are subject to the decisions of others who have the power to control the judicial system and access to the county office building and courthouse.
We are adjusting to those decisions in a responsible and prudent manner. Continuing to serve our citizens and promoting public safety, while remaining diligent of all appropriate measures to address COVID-19, is our goal.