The historic late-winter snowfall that slammed Central Oregon this week also did a number on the local courts.
Hearings in Deschutes County Circuit Court were canceled Monday and Wednesday, and on Tuesday, only three of seven courtrooms were staffed. Thursday was the first day this week the courthouse was fully open.
But as of Thursday afternoon, many canceled hearings hadn’t been rescheduled yet. Attorneys did report seeing rescheduling notices begin to trickle into their email inboxes.
Deschutes District Attorney John Hummel said he was at work this week and saw defendants outside the locked front doors and he had to inform them court was closed.
“They asked when their new court date was, and I was unable to tell them,” Hummel said.
Hummel said it wasn’t clear how these people would be notified of their new court dates.
Attorney Erick Ward called the scheduling situation this week “chaos.”
“This has happened before, however, and I’m sure it will get worked out eventually,” he said.
“The court schedulers deserve the credit for managing the chaos and getting things back on track. They have an incredibly hard job, and they do it well.”
The closures mean court staff must catch up on processing electronic and paper documents filed with the court, scanning newly filed paper documents and rescheduling all canceled hearings, which involves contacting lawyers on both sides.
“It will likely take us three to five business days to get back to normal,” said court administrator Jeff Hall. “I did authorize our scheduling unit staff to work from home while we were closed yesterday so they could get ahead of the curve.”
One obvious consequence of cases being continued and rescheduled is inmates will sit longer in the Deschutes County jail. One snow day can push a trial out up to six months, depending on the case type. For other non-trial hearings, it could be up to 30 additional days, Hall said.
And even with the court closed this week, law enforcement officers still requested search warrants, and judges still had to approve them. This week, judges contacted the jail by phone or email, just as they do on a weekend.
At about 5:30 a.m. each day this week, Hall and Deschutes presiding judge Wells Ashby conferred to consider the ability of those attending court — including jurors and staff — to safely travel to get there. There’s no set standard for canceling court due to inclement weather, Hall said, so it comes down to a judgment call.
But Hall said he and Ashby were determined on Tuesday to open that day, in large part so the court could process restraining and anti-stalking orders, so no one would have to wait more than three days to receive one.
“Being closed (Tuesday) would have stretched that to four days,” Hall said.
In the end, the court was only able to staff three courtrooms and a large number of litigants and defendants were not able to appear.
But Tuesday, two protective order cases were filed in circuit court.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org