LAWTON – The Comanche County Courthouse initially was scheduled to reopen on January 4, but because of an anticipated resurgence of the coronavirus after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays the date has been pushed back another two weeks, to January 19.
Central District County Commissioner Johnny Owens made the announcement Monday after meeting with elected county officials to discuss the issue.
“I don’t want to reopen too soon,” he said.
The three county commissioners will meet again with elected county officials on January 15 to re-evaluate the situation, Owens said. The courthouse will be closed January 18 in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.
The courthouse, in downtown Lawton, was closed to the public at 4 p.m. November 25 for the Thanksgiving holiday and has remained closed since then.
“We’re doing what we can to protect the public and county employees,” Owens said at the time.
County officials and their employees have continued their duties for the past month, but protective face masks have been mandatory for everyone.
Court Clerk Robert Morales said arraignments from the Comanche County Detention Center will continue to be performed virtually.
“They have a closed-circuit camera system between the detention center and the judges’ courtrooms,” Morales related. Attorneys handling criminal cases have been advised to contact the judge handling their client’s case.
Evidentiary hearings have been delayed for two men claiming to be Native Americans who assert that they were wrongfully prosecuted in Comanche County District Court and their convictions should be vacated. District Judge Emmit Tayloe said Monday he will have 30 days after the courthouse reopens to reschedule those hearings.
Protective orders have been and continue to be heard, Special District Judge Susan Zwaan said Tuesday.
Small claims cases will not be considered until after the courthouse reopens, Morales and Zwaan both said.
Special District Judge Grant Sheperd posted notices at the courthouse entrance that misdemeanor cases set for judgment and sentencing this month in his court have been continued to next April. Those scheduled before Judge Zwaan have been pushed back to March, she said.
Drop boxes for tax payments, small claims petitions and other items are stationed inside the main entrance to the courthouse on the west side of the building, and telephone numbers of the various offices (Court Clerk, County Clerk, Treasurer, Assessor, etc.) are posted on the courthouse doors.
Although the building is closed, “When you call, you will be helped,” Owens vowed. “If you have to come to the courthouse, we’ll do everything we can to resolve your problem.”
The Court Clerk’s Office, which processes marriage licenses, criminal records, court payments and court dockets, is closed to the public except on a limited basis, Morales said.
Individuals wanting to acquire a marriage license should visit the Comanche County website and navigate to the Court Clerk’s Office. There, click on the “Marriage License” hyperlink for
instructions on how to apply for the license. Applications are being accepted only from Comanche County residents – proof of residency is required – and from military personnel at Fort Sill, Morales emphasized.
Everyone who enters the courthouse is required to wear a face mask.
Informational updates are posted on the county’s website at https://comanche county.us and via email at email@example.com.
The Comanche County Courthouse was previously closed to the public for 10 weeks, from March 19 through May 31, because of the coronavirus.
In another matter, four Comanche County officials – County Clerk Carrie Tubbs, Court Clerk Robert Morales, Sheriff Kenny Stradley and Commissioner Owens – will receive the oath of office on January 4. Morales, Tubbs and Owens filed unopposed for new four-year terms; Stradley defeated a challenger in the November general election for another four-year term in the post he has held continuously for three decades.