It took three extra days for it to happen, but on Friday the Comanche County Courthouse reopened to the public.
Originally scheduled to reopen from COVID-19-induced closure following Monday’s President’s Day holiday, this week’s snowstorm scuttled plans. It took rising temperatures, melting snow and ice to get back to business, according to Court Clerk Robert Morales. It also channeled a satirical rendition of the “First Day of Christmas” by the court clerk.
“On the first day back from Covid and the ice,” he said before ending with a laugh.
It was at the end of a busy first day of public access back to the courthouse, 315 SW 5th, that Morales called one of the busiest he’d seen. With many people in jail awaiting their initial appearances before a judge, the day’s arraignments would continue well past the courthouse’s closure to the public at 4 p.m.
Morales said the morning actually began pretty slow before noon. But from the lunch break forward, activity exploded. He said the 65 small claims court filings that came in Friday were all from the afternoon.
“On an average day we get between 20 and 40 small claims filings,” he said.
The court clerk’s office was also busy with people coming in to pay their fines and court costs.
The courthouse has been closed to the general public for the most part since Thanksgiving. It was. the second time since March 2019 that county commissioners closed its doors to the public due to increasing cases of COVID-19 in the community. Originally planned to reopen in January, high COVID-19 numbers in the community kept the closure in place.
Although the doors are now reopened, there are safety protocols in place
Offices are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Visitors entering the building through its west entrance will have to have their temperatures checked in addition to going through security screening; those with temperatures above 100.4 degrees will not be allowed to enter.
The visitor population in the building is restricted to 100 people at a time. Visitors must wear masks or facial coverings and social distancing protocols (at least 6 feet between people) will be observed.
The lack of parking around the courthouse and in its parking lot throughout the day offered insight into the numbers of people willing to follow the rules to take care of their business.
Morales said that every day the courthouse has been closed over this past year has added to an already-burdened workload. This includes the criminal court. The scheduled January/February jury trial docket has been postponed until the end of March and first part of April. He said the May/June docket should be on schedule.
Prior dockets were affected in 2020. Morales noted that last year’s May/June docket was postponed, and the three-week September docket averaged one trial per week.
“We’re way behind on jury trials,” he said. “I hope we can get caught up by the end of the year.”