Courthouse Closings - How Can They Affect Your Court Case?
Authored By: Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc.
Oklahoma Courthouses rarely close, but in a natural disaster (heavy snow or tornado damage) or some other extreme problem, the courthouse may be closed on the day you have a court case. Notice of closings may be heard on the radio or television. You can always call the county courthouse or your lawyer to double-check to see if the courthouse is open. If you have a lawyer, he or she may let you know that the courthouse has been closed because of an emergency of some type or because of bad weather.
Whether criminal or civil, if you have a court case on the docket, you need to be there. If you have a problem, always get to a phone and call the courthouse. Ask for the judge's clerk and let them know you will be late. If there is any way humanly possible, get to the courthouse early to avoid any problems!
If the situation is important enough to be in court, it is important enough for you do to EVERYTHING possible to be early and be prepared for court.
Courthouses are typically open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday and are closed for legal holidays. Some courthouses open later and some close earlier.
What happens when the courthouse is closed on the day you have a hearing or have to file a response to a lawsuit?
The answer depends on the type of case you have and where you are in the court process.
Responses or answers to a court filing
Whether you are served personally, or by mail, there is usually a date marked on the paper or "summons" that your answer is due or that you have to appear in court. You have a right to 'notice' or to be told when and where to file a response to the lawsuit.
After a case is filed, you must respond. If you do not respond, the judge may grant the other person a judgment against you. Sometimes this may happen without a court hearing.
There are other things that happen in some types of cases that you may also need to file an answer with the court.
You always want to respond to a lawsuit against you. But, sometimes the right kind of response is very important to your case. Please talk to a lawyer before you respond. This may keep you from lots of problems later on.
Most of the time you have 20 days to respond to a lawsuit or other filing. Any day that the courthouse does not remain open for public business until the regularly scheduled closing time is excluded from a computation of time. So, if the courthouse is closed the day you have to file your response, file it the very next day. Do not delay!
In some cases you only have 10 days to respond or appear in court.
For example, these kinds of cases:
- Sale of property in a foreclosure or to pay a money judgment
- Garnishment of wages or a bank account
- Decision of a final judgment or order from a judge
- Issuance of a summons
- Landlord/tenant evictions or rent owed
- An Order to appear in Small Claims Court
Some local court rules tell you how long you have to file motions or responses, too. Information on how to find Local Court Rules is found below.
What happens when you do not respond or do not respond on time?
If you do not respond or do not respond on time, a case you have filed may be dismissed.
What else can happen?
If you want to file the case again, you would have to pay all of the court costs again.
If the case is against you for money, or for return of property, you must respond on time. This means that you must file a court paper answering the other person's claims before a certain date. Usually you have 20 days, but always check with a lawyer.
What else can happen?
If, you do not file the response on time, the other person will be given a judgment against you. That may mean that your bank account or paycheck can be garnished.
Court Dates and Hearings
Usually if the courthouse is closed and you are to appear for a hearing that day, the case is set for the next day. This is not always the case. Call your lawyer or the court clerk to be sure. You should have notice of this on the summons or court papers you received. Sometimes local court rules have instructions on how cases are re-scheduled when the courthouse has to close.
Information on how to find local court rules is found below.
Courts set many cases on the same day to be dealt with by the judge. Usually the cases are similar. For example, all small claims cases may be heard by one judge, at a particular day or time. All evictions are usually heard by one judge, at a particular day or time. This depends on the size of the county you are in and how many cases are filed.
The dates and times Judges or clerks set for cases to be heard are called "dockets."
When your case is set on a docket, it means that the judge will start the docket by calling the names of each case and asking each person or their lawyer, to tell the court they are there. These are sometimes called "announcements."
Judges do this in different ways. Sometimes they "call the docket" by asking each party from each case for all of the cases that are to be heard that day first. Then, depending on what is to be done, the judge may then go back to the top and start hearings for the cases that need trials.
If the courthouse was closed the day of your hearing, call the judge's clerk as soon as you can. Ask when the case is going to be on the docket.
If you miss a court date, call the judge's clerk as soon as you can. Ask what happened with your case and if the judge entered anything against you.
Examples of what can happen
If the case against you is for eviction from your home or apartment or for money for past-due rent, you must appear in court and on time. In an eviction case, the landlord can ask for money or you to leave the property or both. You usually only have 10 days notice of the hearing date. Sometimes you may get the papers in person. Sometimes the papers are posted on your door.
Either way, you must appear in court to answer. You do not file a written answer with the court in an eviction. You just show up at the court hearing, date and time.
What else can happen?
If you do not appear at all, or not on the right day, or at the right time, the other person will be given a judgment against you.
In the case of an eviction, the sheriff may come in a few days to move your belongings and lock you out.
If you do not go to court and the judge calls your name, the judge may:
- dismiss your case.
- grant the other person a judgment against you.
- issue a "bench warrant" for your arrest.
- issue a contempt citation against you.
Any of these are harmful to your case, may cost you money or cause you to be arrested!
If the Judge dismisses a lawsuit you filed:
If you filed the case and want to file the case again, you will have to pay all of the court costs again.
If the Judge grants the other person a judgment against you:
You have only 10 days to file a motion to reconsider or "vacate" the judgment, but you must have a good reason that you were unable to get to the courthouse or to the court on time for your docket.
You may be able to file a Motion to ask the Judge to reconsider or vacate the judgment. You will need to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible!
If the Judge issues a bench warrant for your arrest:
You may be arrested or at least detained if you are stopped by a law enforcement official or otherwise appear again in court. You must take care of this immediately. Ask the court clerk or talk to a lawyer about how to get the bench warrant removed.
If the Judge issues a contempt citation against you:
This usually has a monetary penalty, a fine. You may have to pay money to the court.
If the judge enters a bench warrant or a citation against you, a lawyer may help you file a court paper called a "motion" or "request" asking the Judge to recall the bench warrant or citation. You must have a good reason for asking the Judge to set aside the warrant or citation. For example, if you did not get any notice that you were supposed to go to court the next day it was open on the court papers.
When you have been charged with contempt, either by a citation or bench warrant, you may be threatened with going to jail. IF you CANNOT afford a lawyer, you have the right to a lawyer. The judge may ask you try to get a lawyer that you can afford. The judge may ask you questions about your income and why you state that you cannot afford a lawyer. Some counties required that you file a written application to request that a judge can appoint a lawyer. But the judge must assign a public defender or court-appointed lawyer to represent you if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer.
The court Clerk will have an application.
Applications can be found on this website at http://www.oklaw.org
You cannot be put in jail because you cannot afford to hire a lawyer when you may have to go to jail for a bench warrant, citation or other charge.
Most court records or "minutes" of what happened in a court case are on the internet. You can search the Court Dockets by county to find your case.
In Oklahoma the website for all county courts is http;//www.oscn.net
- Click on the tab at the top marked "Court Dockets."
- Then click on the left hand navigation link "Search Dockets."
- Not all of the counties are using the same database.
There are only 12 counties to search from this tab.
- Other counties can be found from this page.
- Look to the left-hand side of the site navigation.
- Click on the tab "Non-OCIS Counties."
- All of the "minutes" are NOT put into the computer as they happen. Sometimes there are delays. Just because you do not see any notes about what happened, does not mean that the judge has not made a decision or entered an order.
Local Court Rules
The Oklahoma State Courts Network posts links to the available Local Court Rules on this page: