Felony cases soar in 2012 at Tulsa County Courthouse; weddings also up
BY BILL BRAUN World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 03, 2013
1/03/13 at 8:03 AM
Related story: Criminal cases up in federal court.
Felony filings increased; civil lawsuits decreased; and weddings went through the roof at the Tulsa County Courthouse in 2012.
After four consecutive years of decreases in the number of felony cases filed in Tulsa County, that total increased substantially in 2012.
Some 5,968 felony cases were filed in 2012, an increase of 928 from the 2011 total of 5,040, according to records maintained by Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith's office.
That is the highest total since 2009, when 6,072 felony cases were filed.
The 2012 total includes 51 cases given a separate filing designation to show that "youthful offender" guidelines are involved.
Felony figures for 2010 and 2011 - 5,051 and 5,040 filings, respectively - were lower than any yearly total compiled in the 1990s or in the decade preceding 2010, records show.
A single felony charge often involves multiple counts, including misdemeanor and traffic matters.
First Assistant District Attorney Doug Drummond said there was an increase by more than 600 cases in the number of matters presented by law enforcement officers to prosecutors for possible filing in 2012.
The percentage of prospective cases that the District Attorney's Office decided not to file decreased in 2012, he said.
Drummond indicated that he thinks those two factors contributed to the higher filing activity.
Regarding the increase in filing figures, Drummond said he cannot interpret them to indicate that crime has increased here.
"There are so many variables," he said.
When law enforcement agencies are staffed with more officers on the street, prosecutors get more cases submitted for possible filing, according to Drummond.
Also in Tulsa County last year, 6,251 cases were filed as misdemeanors not tied to a felony charge. That is a slight decrease of 25 from the 2011 total of 6,276.
In 2012, 18,479 cases were filed and assigned to Tulsa County judges in the Civil Division. That is a decline of 1,375 from the 2011 total of 19,854 and marks the second consecutive year of a decline in civil filings after three consecutive years of record-setting highs.
An unfavorable economy, which often results in foreclosure and indebtedness litigation, gets a lot of the blame when the number of lawsuits is high.
Carlene Voss, chief of the Civil Division in the Court Clerk's Office, indicated that procedural problems and changes regarding mortgages and foreclosure actions contributed to the drop in civil filings last year.
Most of the 2012 decline in the number of suits involved a larger-money category, featuring requests for damages exceeding $10,000.
Some 20,440 cases were filed in Small Claims Court in 2012, a decrease of 1,337 from the 2011 figure of 21,777.
Inside the courthouse walls, the business of getting married boomed in 2012.
According to records maintained by Smith's office, 838 weddings were conducted by Tulsa County judges last year.
In comparison, 342 courthouse weddings were held in 2011, and only 22 in 2010.
There was a renewed focus on conducting weddings in 2011, with some judges agreeing to have their names placed on a list of those willing to perform weddings.
That information is available to people getting marriage licenses.
Money might be a consideration in the growth of courthouse weddings, as judges say they are not allowed to accept financial compensation for performing the ceremonies.
District Judge Jefferson Sellers said he views performing weddings as "an important part of the work we do" by fostering and securing marriage relationships, which benefit children.
County civil cases filed
County felony cases filed
Source: Tulsa County Court Clerk's Office
Original Print Headline: Number of felony cases increases at courthouse
Bill Braun 918-581-8455