Summoned for jury duty? Report to the fair barn, not the courthouse
By Ken Childers
Okfuskee County residents summoned for jury duty between now and the end of the year will not be reporting to the courthouse, but rather to the county fair barn.
The change in venue was made last week via an executive order from District Judge Lawrence Parish, who said the order was issued to guard against coronavirus transmission. The fair barn is located at 1201 E. Columbia in Okemah.
“The District Court of Okfuskee County will hold jury selection for all jury trials which are scheduled between the dates of this order and December 31, 2020, in the Okfuskee County Fair Barn,” Parish wrote in the order dated Oct. 6. “This order is made necessary to protect all persons from the danger of close personal contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Parish’s order applies to jury selection only and trials will be held at the Okfuskee County Courthouse, although COVID-19 restrictions are in place. Only 10 people, including the judge, attorneys, plaintiffs, defendants and court personnel are allowed in the courtroom, or any other area of the courthouse, at one time. Those awaiting their time in the courtroom have to remain outside until they are called inside.
The judicial system has been disrupted statewide amid the pandemic, beginning with an Oklahoma Supreme Court order to cancel all jury trials and suspend procedures in civil, juvenile and criminal cases effective March 27 through May 15.
Although hearings and other procedures have since resumed in Okfuskee County, many initial court appearances and other matters have been handled remotely over the past several months, with the defendant facing a camera at the Okfuskee County Jail rather than appearing in person before a judge.
The courthouse itself was closed to the public from March 19 – May 26, but restrictions remain in place since its reopening. Only the north entrance is open and all visitors are subject to a COVID-19 screening, which includes a temperature check. Face masks or suitable face coverings must also be worn in all areas of the courthouse, including courtrooms.