Covid-19 Court Closings
On March 16, 2020, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued Joint Emergency Orders for all 77 Oklahoma County District Courts encouraging social distancing to protect Judges, Court Clerks, Court Employees and the public. Mandates which effected domestic, guardianship, probate and adoption dockets included suspending deadlines for 30 days from the date of their Order, extending the statute of limitations by 30 days in civil cases from the date of the Order, rescheduling trial settings, hearings and pre-trial settings until after April 26 and where possible encouraging the use of telephone conferencing and video conferencing for necessary hearings. Filings were encouraged by the use of email, fax and drop boxes or U.S. mailings. Certain designated persons were prohibited from entering areas of the courthouse and the number of persons who could be located in any one area were limited as well.
On March 23, 2020, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma issued a Second
Emergency Order regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster, specifically addressing public schools and parenting rights to custody and visitation. The Supreme Court noted that on March 16, 2020 the Oklahoma State School Board ordered all public schools to cease operations until April 6, 2020. This Supreme Court’s Order intended to clarify visitation, wherein the school schedule is used to determine visitation and/or custody. The Court stated that the original published school schedule shall control in all instances. It stated that custody and visitation/parenting time shall not be affected by the school closures that arise from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Supreme Court stated that previous visitation schedules could be modified if allowed by the assigned Judge and noted that with the Courthouse restrictions the Courts could use remote access for hearings involving request for modification of existing Orders. It also stated that the best practice for requesting a Motion to Modify a Visitation Schedule was include a copy of an original signed written Order containing the agreement sought to be modified with the case number on it, when filing with the Court Clerk’s office, as access to the Court file could be a challenge.
On March 27, 2020, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma issued an Order stating that the Court house has remained open, but with restricted access by Order of the Tulsa County Commissioners. Attorney’s were provided with email contacts for Judges, Clerks and Bailiffs, as many are sheltering at home with a few that rotate working at the Courthouse covering emergencies and certain criminal matters. Currently, assigned Judges are available for emergency hearings in domestic, guardianship and probate matters. These matters are being handled pursuant to telephone conferencing and video conferencing as permitted by Local District Rules at the discretion of the assigned Judge. It is the attorney’s responsibility to coordinate the conferencing, once approved by the Court. It is also the attorney’s responsibility to provide a Court Reporter in such circumstances.
At this time, all pending motions, pre-trials, hearings, etc. have been extended past May 15, 2020 and filings are being accepted in the various county clerk’s office by either email, fax, drop box or regular mail. As each new Administrative Order is issued, some Judge’s clerks allow the attorneys to contact them and request pending matters that they have on the docket, be moved to dates past extension the dates and other clerks are merely moving Judge’s dockets into the future. Client and litigants should understand that most attorneys have no control over the docketing at this juncture. The Court system is in place at this time to handle the most pressing matters and Administrative Orders are in place providing the attorneys tools with which to navigate the process.