Tate issues order to promote health and safety when courthouse reopens

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

When the Osage County courthouse eventually reopens, efforts will be made to limit the number of people entering the building for court business at any one time, and persons will be encouraged to immediately leave once their tasks are completed.

Associate District Judge Stuart Tate entered an administrative order last Thursday that anticipates the need for continued disinfection of public facilities, and social distancing among persons doing business in public spaces. In his order, Tate calls on lawyers and litigants to continue, where possible, to use mail, email, electronic conferencing and other methods of communicating as alternatives to visiting the courthouse when it reopens.

Osage County commissioners voted March 16 to close the courthouse to the general public, and the county board voted again on Monday to continue that closure. Oklahoma’s state courts, including those housed in the Osage County courthouse, are currently closed to business through May 15. Officials have not given a firm date when the courthouse in Pawhuska may be reopened to at least some public access.

Tate’s order makes it clear, however, that efforts will be made to promote safety once the building is reopened. The judge requested, in his order, that deputies providing security services at the courthouse be tasked with monitoring persons entering the building for symptoms of COVID-19. Anyone displaying symptoms of the illness “shall not be admitted and shall be advised to seek medical care,” according to the court order.

The order goes on to set limits for the number of persons who can be in specific courtrooms and court offices at any one time. Persons who are allowed in will be required to engage in social distancing, and to leave without loitering once they have completed their business.

Tate said Monday that members of the bars of Osage, Washington and Kay counties, who do business in Osage County District Court, have been very understanding about the need for health-crisis restrictions.

“I think they get it,” Tate said. “Overall, I think that they’ve been wonderful.”

When the courts reopen, there will be a backlog of scores of cases, particularly civil cases, that have been filed and have not received any judicial attention.

Tate said, and the Journal-Capital also noted based on a review of court filings, that the volumes of filings during the courthouse closure do not seem inordinately high. If anything, there have been somewhat fewer cases filed, but none of those filings has been acted upon by the court system.

Lawyers and litigants will need to continue to be patient, as it will only be possible to handle so many cases at one time, Tate said.