Fulton magistrate court goes virtual ahead of expected Trump indictment

Barricades are seen in front of Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta on Thursday. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Barricades are seen in front of Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta on Thursday. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

The Magistrate Court of Fulton County is directing those with hearings in the coming weeks to avoid going to the downtown Atlanta courthouse and connect virtually instead.

In a Facebook post, officials said anyone with court scheduled for a selection of dates between Monday and Aug. 18 should use a Zoom link, which can be requested by phone or email. The post was accompanied by photos showing orange barricades placed around the courthouse to enhance security ahead of the expected indictment of former President Donald Trump.

The court did not give a specific reason for the change, but the dates for virtual hearings correspond with those Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis indicated she would direct a large percentage of her staff to work remotely.

Things are looking a little different around the downtown courthouse. If you have a court case in a downtown Magistrate...

Posted by Magistrate Court of Fulton County on Friday, July 28, 2023

In a statement issued last week, a spokeswoman for the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office said the agency is coordinating with local, state and federal law enforcement to enhance security ahead of “high-profile legal proceedings.”

“Some of the measures we are deploying, such as barriers that will limit parking near the courthouse, will be obvious to the public,” Natalie Ammons said. “For security reasons, other measures being deployed will not be as obvious.”

The sheriff’s office asked the public and anyone conducting business at the Fulton courthouse to “plan accordingly” to ensure they arrive on time for hearings, meetings and other proceedings.

Willis has been investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. That includes the former president’s phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which he urged the fellow Republican to “find” the 11,780 votes needed to win Georgia.

On Monday, a Fulton judge rejected a sweeping push from Trump’s Atlanta-based attorneys to gut the district attorney’s investigation before any criminal charges are announced.

Willis is expected to seek an indictment in the coming weeks, which could bring an influx of demonstrators and counter-protesters to the downtown Atlanta courthouse. Her plans for remote work over 10 days between Monday and Aug. 18 were detailed in a letter sent to Chief Judge Ural Glanville earlier this year.

“This remote work will reduce the number of Fulton County District Attorney’s office staff in the Fulton County Courthouse and Government Center by approximately 70%,” Willis noted, adding that only her leadership team, armed investigators and a couple of other teams will be working in the building those days.

The magistrate court handles warrant applications and first appearance hearings in criminal cases, among other matters. Civil cases such as abandoned vehicles, dispossessory actions and small claims garnishments also originate there. It operates from the same Central Avenue building as Fulton County Superior Court, where any charges against Trump would be filed.

The Fulton County Probate Court, meanwhile, said business at its office is continuing as usual. The probate court, which is responsible for weapons licenses, marriage certificates and estate planning, is also bringing back its weekly Friday wedding ceremonies for the first time since the pandemic.

Zoom hearings in magistrate court will be held Monday and Tuesday of this week, followed by Aug. 7, 8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17 and 18. Those with hearings on those dates should contact the court at 404-613-5313 or magistrate.jarequests@fultoncountyga.gov to request a Zoom link, if one has not already been provided.