Budget Cuts Bring Early Stop To Tulsa County Jury Trials

Thursday, June 9th 2016, 10:30 pm
By: News On 6

Jury trials in Tulsa County are at a standstill until the end of summer. The court administrator said it needed to cut a week of trials because of lack of funding.

The Tulsa County district attorney said the cancellation will delay justice for crime victims and the chief public defender said people charged with a crime won't have their right to a speedy trial.

The right to be tried by a jury of you peers is one of the most important rights in the criminal justice system; but here in Tulsa County, that right is on hold because of budget concerns.

Chief Public Defender Rob Nigh said, “It has a severe impact upon people. It's particularly troubling for those folks who are innocent who get held in jail without proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Nigh’s office represents more than 80 percent of the defendants who can't afford an attorney. He said canceling a week of jury trials pushes court dates back by months.

"It creates a logjam in the system," he said.

The court administrator's office, which handles the jury pool, says it ran out of money to have jurors for a second week in June; jurors are compensated $40 for their time.

District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said the delay impacts families waiting for justice to be served.

"The cases that are literally being continued are cases that involve people who have been victims of violent crimes," he said.

Both attorneys blame state budget cuts for the delay.

"Public safety ought to be dollar one spent," Kunzweiler said.

Nigh said, "The judiciary is almost treated like an administrative agency instead of the third branch of government, and until we fund the court system adequately, we're going to continue these problems."

This would normally be the last week of jury trials before summer break.

Jury trials will resume August 29th.