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GA Supreme Court extends COVID-19 judicial emergency

The Henry County Judicial Center in McDonough.
The Henry County Judicial Center in McDonough.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Friday extended the statewide judicial emergency that’s been in place since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, further suspending jury trials and many nonessential court functions.

The emergency order was to expire Sunday at midnight. This marks the fourth time Chief Justice Harold D. Melton has extended the judicial emergency since it was first enacted on March 14.

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And a fifth extension is already anticipated, Melton’s order states. The prohibition on criminal and civil jury trials, and most grand jury trial proceedings, is likely to continue “until September or later,” according to the order.

In the meantime, courts can move forward with all other judicial proceedings, provided they can be conducted legally and safely.

Friday’s order includes stronger language to make clear that, as Georgia’s courts move to hold more proceedings, judges have an increased responsibility to ensure the safety of all involved.

Courts “have discretion to conduct in-person judicial proceedings, but only in compliance with public health guidance and with the requirements of the United States and Georgia constitutions ... including the public’s right of access to judicial proceedings and a criminal defendant’s rights to confrontation and an open courtroom,” the order states.

“No court may compel the attendance of any person for a court proceeding if the court proceeding or the court facility in which it is to be held is not in compliance with this order, including in particular large calendar calls,” wrote Melton.

The order encouraged courts to take advantage of technological advances to address the growing backlog of pending cases.