More filings to resume in Georgia courts, but trials on hold
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s state court system is starting to resume business even as the coronavirus pandemic proceeds, but the state’s chief justice says that there are unlikely to be some jury trials until September or later and is warning against busy pretrial hearings.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton on Friday extended a condition of judicial crisis for the fourth time, now in an order taking effect Sunday and lasting till Aug. 11. Melton is permitted to select the measure under state law.
The brand new emergency reinstates deadlines for litigants to file papers starting Tuesday. In his order, Melton says this move”enables more pending and newly filed cases to proceed in the judicial procedure in a bid to return to stronger court operations”
He is urging judges to do what they can to tackle instances which have been piling up since court operations closed down, such as continuing to conduct online hearings. Melton says that most cases should not be met in by juries and judges shouldn’t summon juries for criminal and civil cases.
In actuality, the order contains stronger language about judges’ responsibility to keep people secure, responding to news that some judges happen to be resuming the practice of holding calendar calls, hearings when lots of litigants crowd into a court for the judge to ask concerning the status of the cases. Melton cautioned that this week that judges who violate the order with improper in-person hearings could face judicial discipline.
“Courts have discretion to run peer judicial proceedings, but only in compliance with public health advice and with the necessities of the USA and Georgia constitutions and related statutes and court rules,” the order says in part. “No court could compel the presence of any individual to get a court proceeding if the court proceeding or the court centre where it is to be held is not in compliance with this order, such as specifically large calendar calls”
Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson expired July 1 from an apparent heart attack after testing positive for COVID-19. It is unclear if the virus contributed to Johnson’s death, that was the first African American.
John Ott, the chief judge in the circuit, which includes Newton and Walton counties, also tested positive for the virus, as did a number of other court workers. Courthouses in both counties have been closed until Wednesday for cleaning\.
Judges or court workers also have tested positive in Fulton, Cobb, Henry, Douglas, Gilmer, Fannin and Ware counties, based on the Daily Report of Atlanta, using some courthouses closing for cleaning.
Dougherty County Probate Judge Nancy Stephenson died after contracting COVID-19 from the spring.
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