New grand jury proceedings and jury trials could start back up in the coming months, Chief Justice Harold Melton said Monday.
Melton said he expects that his upcoming judicial emergency order for September will call for the resumption of grand jury proceedings. His order for October is expected to call for the resumption of jury trials.
The chief justice also said he believes a public service campaign will be needed to encourage people to show up for jury duty during a pandemic.
Jury trials have been suspended since March, when the coronavirus outbreak shut down most courthouse operations. A few grand juries that had already been convened before the judicial emergency were allowed to return and consider indictments. But no new grand juries have been allowed.
In a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Melton said he felt he had no choice but to move forward, given the backlog of important cases that continues to pile up. On Monday, during a meeting of the Judicial Council of Georgia, Melton was more specific.
“We’re pressed to go green on grand juries, we’re pressed to go green on jury trials,” Melton said. “I would love to be able to open up jury trials in October.”
Justice David Nahmias, who also participated in the remote meeting, said because it takes time to issue summonses, the earliest that new grand juries would convene will be mid-October. Jury trials would likely be able to resume in mid-November, he said.
Melton also said the judiciary is interested in convening grand juries remotely. It may be possible to get this accomplished in conjunction with the governor’s next public health emergency order, he said.
A number of judges at the meeting said some preexisting grand juries in Haralson, Catoosa, Glynn and Coffee counties have met in recent weeks without incident.
Superior Court Judge Fletcher Sams said a grand jury was reconvened in his Griffin Judicial Circuit and most everyone called back for duty showed up for service.
“It was amazing there were no complaints,” he said.
The State Bar of Georgia is expected to help put together public service announcements to motivate the public, Jeff Davis, the bar’s executive director, told the judges.
“We are trying to do something to educate the public about jury service and certainly in the time of a pandemic the need to show up for a jury summons,” Davis said. “We will do everything we can to help with those PSAs, knowing how important they are.”
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