By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The Oklahoma County Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association (OCCDLA) has requested that the Oklahoma County Courthouse be closed from Monday, March 23 through Saturday, April 11, to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
According to a release from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, dated March 22, there have been 2 deaths in Oklahoma and 67 positive cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma, 26 in Oklahoma County.
“The courthouse gets closed for ice and snow, and it should be closed temporarily to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” said Billy Coyle, OCCDLA President and attorney at Coyle Law Firm. “Some of us are required to appear this week in person on court cases, and our members are concerned. We feel the Oklahoma County Courthouse should be closed to the public this week to be evaluated on a week by week basis.”
Recently, Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order to declare an emergency in all 77 Oklahoma counties amid the threat of COVID-19.
As a result, the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued a joint order to clarify procedures that should be followed in all Oklahoma district courts. The order states that all district courts in Oklahoma should immediately cancel all jury terms for the next 30 days and release jurors from service. Also, no additional jurors should be summoned without approval of the chief justice.
The Oklahoma City Municipal Court website says that sessions have been canceled until April 3. Cases are being rescheduled and defendants are being notified by mail with new court dates.
Last week Oklahoma County Presiding Judge Ray C. Elliott announced the cancelation of Oklahoma County jury trials set for the weeks of March 23 and April 6.
“We now call upon the Courts and County Commissioners to close the courthouse from March 23 through April 10,” Coyle said. “We hope the spread of coronavirus will have slowed enough by then to reopen, and that decision could be reassessed at the end of this proposed closure period.”
News9 reported on Friday, March 20, that Oklahoma City attorney Chris Sloan has contracted the coronavirus and warns others in his profession to take the disease seriously.
After returning from vacationing in Florida on March 11, Sloan immediately felt sick, then learned a friend he traveled with had tested positive for COVID-19. Sloan was then tested at OU Medical Center and found out he too was positive.
“It’s just exhausting from one moment to the next,” Sloan told News9 reporter Jennifer Pierce. “Some days you feel better and wake up the next morning and you’re in another state of paralysis where you just can’t move.”
Sloan attended a hearing in Kingfisher County Courthouse the week of his return and is now concerned about his colleagues in the legal community contracting the virus.
Kingfisher officials stated that “they are aware of Sloan’s diagnosis and said they are only holding emergency hearings and following COVID-19 guidelines set by the Oklahoma Supreme Court,” Pierce reported.
“Some of these judges do not seem to be following them from the peers I’ve talked to,” Sloan told Pierce. “Even though I’ve not been down to the Oklahoma County courthouse where a lot of this is going on.”
The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) continues to support guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) related to social distancing and personal hygiene. For more information, visit coronavirus.health.ok.gov.
“The OCCDLA organization and its members respectfully ask the County Commissioners to close the Oklahoma County Courthouse to the public on a week by week basis knowing that the courthouse can continue to operate regarding critical constitutional matters, said Coyle. “The courthouse can still conduct many of its duties by phone.”