By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — The Kay County Board of Commissioners met for their weekly meeting Monday, May 11, and approved measures to start re-opening the Kay County Courthouse for business, while also working to keep Courthouse staff and community members safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Courthouse was closed by order of the Oklahoma Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals as well as the Board of Commissioners, and is planned to re-open May 18, on a limited basis.
The Courthouse has been on lockdown since March 16 when Kay County received its first COVID-19 case, with only Courthouse staff and employees allowed inside the facility. Some offices chose to work in shifts, as well.
“Someone is checking on the office once a day. If anyone needs anything they can call (and leave a message) and we’ll get back to them,” said Kay County Extension Director Brenda Medlock.
The Kay County Commissioners are now taking steps to re-open the courthouse to the public in an effort to get business back to normal on a county level.
According to the opening procedures, the public will get to visit all county offices starting May 18, but only by appointment, and access is only available at the west entrance, off Maple Street. Those offices include the Election Board, Extension office, County clerk, court clerk, treasurer’s office and assessor’s office.
Anyone entering the Courthouse will have to have a temperature check, and those with a temperature above 100.4 degrees will not be admitted into the Courthouse. Also, only the basement restrooms will be available to the public. All other facilities will be restricted to Courthouse personnel only.
No children will be allowed to enter, unless ordered by court.
Other offices may have to make changes, especially the Extension office and court clerk.
The Extension office will follow the guidelines set by the County Commissioners, but also must abide by state-level guidelines in order to open.
“We’ll follow what the Courthouse does, in phases, and we’ll have someone there every day, following procedures like sanitizing,” Medlock said. “We follow Kay County regulations. Some counites were allowed to have their offices open May 8, but we’ll just follow this county and start on the 18th.”
The court clerk’s office will see the biggest changes, as court services will be severely limited, primarily to just those involved in a hearing.
If a person is visiting the Courthouse for an appearance he or she must arrive within an hour of the hearing. No family members will be allowed at the court appearance. Attorneys may enter if they have a case scheduled that day.
Those arriving for a court appearance may not enter any other office in the Courthouse.
All trials are suspended until August, but certain hearings are allowed to continue. Juvenile delinquent cases will be available for in-custody defendants and their parents. All hearings will be held by phone or virtually, when possible, and all specialty courts will be virtual.
Filings are to be primarily by mail, however, in-person filings may be done by appointment, or electronically, if approved by a judge.
All fines will be accepted by mail, online or by phone.
District Attorney Brian Hermanson’s office also will have restrictions. Witnesses may only enter the witness-victim center at the time of testimony, with social distancing, and must leave the Courthouse once finished unless a judge allows them to remain. Any meetings with an attorney or advocate will be done by phone or virtually, and paperwork will be accepted by mail or fax. Defendants in a hearing will be allowed into the supervision office by appointment, or by court order. Attorney-client meetings will be by appointment.
“We’re trying to limit the number of people that can be in a hearing to 25,” said Court Clerk Marilee Thornton. “We want to keep people safe, and we want them to have access to the Courthouse, and this is the only way to keep them safe while having access to the Courthouse.”
Activities planned for later in the summer are still expected to take place, including the June 30 election, which involves a Newkirk City Commission election. Also, 4-H activities may still occur.
“We’re trying to do 4-H contests virtually, and we still have camp scheduled next month,” Medlock said. “If we don’t have a good enrollment for the camp, we probably won’t have camp, and it also depends on what the state 4-H office does.”
For more information, visit www.courthouse.kay.ok.us.