MIAMI — Ottawa County district courts will reopen on Monday, May 18.
Due to coronavirus shutdowns, the courts had only been processing emergency cases.
The decision was made during the county commissioners’ regular weekly meeting and District Attorney Kenny Wright reported that the re-opening will be under CDC guidelines, which will require everyone to wear a face mask and will limit hearings to no more than 10 people in one room or area at a time.
“If we can adopt these guidelines as rules it will help in dealing with those who don’t follow proper procedures. The guidelines will also include extra cleaning of high-touch areas in the courthouse,” Wright said.
District Judge Barry Denney said, “Starting on May 18 we will be opening the courts back up to hear emergency and non-emergency matters. We will still handle as much as possible remotely (by phone and video), but many times it will be necessary for litigants and their attorneys and witnesses to actually be in court.”
Denney said he hoped to have an administrative order about the re-opening in place this week.
The commissioners said they will keep a close eye on the process and will make a decision about re-opening their meetings to the public in the near future.
Commissioners also discussed inmates from Ottawa County that are still being housed at the Washington County jail in Bartlesville, where they were moved from another facility.
Inmates in the Ottawa County Jail had to be relocated after a fire in October.
District 3 Commissioner Russell Earls said he had spoken with Ottawa County Undersheriff Dan Cook and recommends leaving the inmates in Washington County because “they are the worst of the worst and tear everything up they can get their hands on.”
Earls continued, “They have a CERT team and can better handle these inmates,” after which it was voted to pay the invoice from Washington County for housing those inmates to date.
In another matter, the commissioners discussed Earls’ recommendation that they take their salaries out of the county’s highway account for three months in order to ease the budget belt tightening anticipated due to coronavirus shutdowns and the loss of sales tax revenues.
“We want to show we are going to do what we can with the situation we are in and would like to see every office do something,” Earls said. “Looking ahead we know the budget is going to be thin. I think we should do this and re-evaluate things in three months to see where we are,” commission chairman Chad Masterson said,
Wright expressed appreciation to the commissioners for being willing to take this avenue.
“My plan for my office is to give back whatever is necessary in line with what the other offices are going to do,” Wright said. “I would like to give back in the neighborhood of 5%, even though we are already running a pretty tight ship.”