Coronavirus causing ‘drastic employee shortage’ in Fulton courts

Fulton County Magistrate Court has received funding for a fast-paced legal process.

Fulton County Magistrate Court has received funding for a fast-paced legal process.

Fulton County’s clerk of court is asking that no one come to a judicial building unless unless they must because the coronavirus pandemic has left a diminished staff nearly overwhelmed.

Judges at all levels of judiciary have warned about the danger COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, poses to courthouse visitors and staff.

“A drastic employee shortage, coupled by the need to ensure the safety of customers and staff by slowing the spread of the coronavirus, has prompted the Clerk of Courts to strongly encourage all Fulton County citizens and customers to avoid visiting the office unless their needs are dire and to utilize as many of the office's online services as possible,” according to a Tuesday news release from Superior Court Clerk Cathelene “Tina” Robinson’s office.

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Court systems throughout metro Atlanta, including Fulton, announced they would pause trials and other proceedings on Friday.

The next day, Chief Supreme Court Justice Harold D. Melton declared a statewide judicial emergency in which he ordered courts and clerk's offices to "suspend all but essential court functions."

Fulton County Clerk of Superior Court Cathelene “Tina” Robinson speaks. (AJC File Photo)

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Robinson was first elected as Superior Court clerk in 2008. Clerks like her run a judicial branch, by swearing in witnesses, maintaining court records and handling everything else judges don't.

But the ongoing pandemic has left a small amount of employees doing their best.

“The dwindling staff that we have here are continuing to persevere and provide effective and efficient service to the best of our ability; however, we’re reaching a point that we may not be able to meet the demand,” Robinson said in the news release.

The court’s communications staff was not immediately available Tuesday to provide a timeline.

READ | Fulton board to hold public meeting over the phone amid coronavirus

"A large majority of our staff" members are out, Robinson said, because they have to be at home with their children. Fulton County Public Schools shut down school buildings "until further notice" on Friday. The district enrolls nearly 95,000 students.

And then there’s reality.

“As each day passes, we have employees call out sick, so we are pleading to our customer base to please avoid physically visiting our office unless it is a emergency because our primary concerns is the health and safety for our staff and those we serve,” Robinson said.

READ | Coronavirus now shutting down another set of Atlanta icons: Strip clubs

In line with Melton’s statewide order, Fulton’s Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk said Tuesday that the following hearings were suspended:

• small claims

• abandoned motor vehicles

• child abandonment

• warrant applications

• environmental

• copy of charges

• trover (wrongful taking of personal property)

• personal property foreclosures

• post-judgment hearings

• misdemeanor Mental Health compliance

• weddings

“Absent additional direction from the Chief Justice, the landlord-tenant (eviction) calendar along with the other suspended calendars will resume on April 13, 2020 ... All items in relations to the calendars above are postponed until the Judicial Emergency is lifted,” according to a news release from Kirk’s office.

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