Jury trials slated for January have been postponed due to the McGirt ruling and concern over COVID-19.
District Judge Doug Kirkley was informed of new information regarding motions needing to be filed, and jurisdictional questions were raised pertaining to the McGirt ruling. That was the U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared Native tribes had never relinquished sovereignty over their reservations, thus kicking the state's criminal cases into federal court.
“We have a lot of those cases pending and waiting for our Court of Criminal Appeals,” said Kirkley. “The ruling only addresses the [Muscogee] Creek Nation, and our Court of Criminal Appeals is addressing the other nations, one of them being Cherokee Nation.”
An elected official contacted the judge on Jan. 2 and said there were several cases of COVID-19 and exposures in the courthouse.
“I collaborated with the county commissioners, the sheriff, and the court clerk, and we limited access until we could figure out what we had,” said Kirkley. “They made arrangements to meet with potential jurors to tell them we didn’t have a docket.”
Kirkley said if a case would have been tried, he would have opened it on Jan. 11.
“We’re waiting for the Court of Criminal Appeals; their cases won’t be called McGirt, but it would be the McGirt v. Oklahoma issue of jurisdiction. My understanding is that opinion should come down sometime in February,” said Kirkley. “We’re trying to do what we can to be diligent, and our next jury term will start April 12.”
Kirkley said the court will be focused on a broader jury trial in April, since those postponed were mainly in-custody criminal cases.