Tate cites flexibility as key to courthouse operations

Robert Smith

Associate District Judge Stuart Tate said May 21 that flexibility in the interest of accommodating people, but keeping them safe, has been a key to resuming activities at the Osage County Courthouse in Pawhuska. The courthouse reopened May 18 to the general public, after having been closed for two months to inhibit the spread of COVID-19.

“I actually think most folks are being patient with it,” Tate said, referring to the limitations that have been enforced since May 18 on the number of people visiting particular offices and courtrooms. Tate said that he and Special Judge Cindy Pickerill have tried to offer a flexible approach to attorneys and their clients. Tate mentioned that he and Pickerill handled a complaince docket on May 19 just outside the courthouse — under the awning on the north side of the building.

The court system has also been making some use of a canopy that was erected on the west side of the building. Under the canopy, some persons with business before the courts have been able to speak to court personnel directly using a video link, but without entering the building, Tate said.

Tate added that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections had expressed a desire to keep state inmates out of county courthouses around the state, and had also expressed a willingness to work with counties regarding video links.

Tate said he thinks the courts are likely to emerge from the COVID-19 health crisis with innovative measures in place that will be retained for the long run, to save time and improve overall safety.

County Assessor Ed Quinton Jr. said May 20 that considering the amount of change that had taken place at the courthouse, business was proceeding pretty smoothly.

“And it’s all for one reason — to keep people safe and not spread the virus,” Quinton said. His suite of offices is on the ground floor. He said that he allows two customers at a time into his offices, and has “sneeze shields” in place to protect both customers and employees against the transmission of the new coronavirus.

County Clerk Shelia Bellamy said May 20 that she had checked several times on May 18 with security officers working in the courthouse, and the only issue that seemed to have arisen was that some visitors wanted to go to multiple offices.

“As far as I know, things have been going OK,” Bellamy said. “I don’t think we’ve had any major issues up to this point.”

She did acknowledge that the status of the courthouse elevator had been a concern, but said it had been working the morning of May 20 and she had used it. There were still some details of the groundrules for courthouse operations that were still being worked out, Bellamy said.