Georgia judges urged to test for COVID-19 after conference

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Judges across Georgia are being urged to get tested for COVID-19 after a colleague found out upon returning home from a judicial conference last week that she had contracted the virus.

The conference, held at the Jekyll Island Convention Center, attracted scores of Superior Court judges, judicial staff and five state Supreme Court justices.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is not disclosing the name of the judge who tested positive out of respect for her privacy. The judge, who has been fully vaccinated since April, contracted a breakthrough case of COVID-19.

Superior Court Judge Wade Padgett of the Columbia Judicial Circuit, who is president of the Council of Superior Court Judges, said some judges are experiencing symptoms of the virus but have tested negative in same-day tests that give rapid results. They are awaiting the results of additional testing, he said.

On Monday, Cobb County Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Leonard posted a message on the county’s bar association website that said two of his fellow judges had tested positive since returning from the conference. A third was not feeling well, isolating at home and awaiting test results, the message said, adding that all three judges were fully vaccinated.

Because two judges tested positive and possibly a third will too, Leonard said Cobb’s Superior Court will transition to a virtual format until its judges test negative for the virus.

Atlanta criminal defense attorney Don Samuel, who gave a presentation to the judges on Thursday, said very few judges at the conference were wearing masks. He also said no one associated with the conference had contacted him to let him know a judge had tested positive.

Attendees were given masks in their conference tote bags upon registration, Padgett said. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention complicated matters when it updated its recommendations for mask-wearing last Tuesday, while the conference was ongoing, he added.

Because of breakthrough infections with the highly contagious delta variant, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people resume wearing masks in indoor places in parts of the country where the virus is most prevalent. That was an abrupt departure from the CDC recommendations issued two months ago.

“We knew the CDC had changed its recommendations but it was still unclear to us,” Padgett said.

Supreme Court of Georgia Chief Justice David Nahmias and Justices Michael Boggs, John Ellington, Shawn LaGrua and Verda Colvin were among those attending the conference. The justices, all of whom are fully vaccinated, were made aware of the positive test and are following CDC protocols since returning from the conference, court spokeswoman Kathleen Joyner said.

Judges who attended the conference were notified Sunday of their colleague’s positive test, according to emails obtained by the AJC.

“We do not know when she was exposed — she had no idea she had COVID until she recently began feeling rundown with cold-like symptoms,” Shannon Weathers of the Superior Court judges’ council wrote. “If you attended the conference and have such symptoms, we strongly urge you to be tested.”

In the message, Weathers asked judges and court administrators to “please share this important information with the judges in your circuit.”

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