Canceled jury trial weeks amid state's budget crisis could return to Tulsa Co. courthouse

Canceled jury trial weeks could be reinstated
Posted at 5:14 AM, Jun 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-21 07:49:24-04

Previously canceled jury trial weeks for the next fiscal year could be reinstated after a funding update from the State Capitol. 

The state's $1.3 billion budget shortfall led to the cancelation of last week's jury trials, which Vicki Cox, Tulsa County court administrator, says was the last of the season.

Additionally, Cox explains, Judge Rebecca Nightingale deleted two of 20 weeks of jury trials slated for next fiscal year because of a standstill budget. 

Those weeks, in April and June, could be reinstated because the budget projection for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, is higher than anticipated, according to Cox who received an update Monday.

The issue comes down to jury pay.

Jurors in Tulsa County receive an average of $40 per day for their work in determining guilt or innocence. 

Twenty dollars goes towards daily pay, while an average of $20 is reserved for mileage.

Cox says the courthouse simply got to a point when they couldn't afford jurors. That led to an early summer for jury trials, which typically break during the summer anyway.

"It's harder to get jurors, and it's harder to get people ready for trial because of summer break," Cox said. 

While the deletion of one week of jury trials this month may not seem like much, John David Luton, first assistant district attorney for Tulsa County, says losing the week backs up and already jammed court system.

"You have defendants that are in jail awaiting trial. You have some out of custody defendants awaiting trial. There are potential speedy trial issues," he said.

Luton raises the possibility that some defense attorneys could file motions on behalf of their defendants claiming their sixth amendment rights have been violated. 

"That can present issues for cases that are awaiting trial where motions can be filed for speedy trial, writs and that sort of thing. Or even after a case is completed, that could then add another additional element for appeal," he explained.

Rob Nigh, Tulsa County's chief public defender, says it would be hard to pursue a sixth amendment violation but echoes the sentiment that defendants will face a heavy burden.

He says those incarcerated while awaiting trial under the presumption of innocence will have to spend even more time in jail.

Cox reminds Tulsa County residents that jury trials are really a small fraction of what goes on in the courthouse, which sees some 5,000 to 7,000 visitors each day for various court related issues.

Trials are slated to return to the courthouse August 29.

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