Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice: Suspend jury trials statewide

Judges across Georgia should consider suspending jury trials for at least two weeks to protect people from the coronavirus, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton said Thursday.

Judges should also consider limiting all non-essential functions in the state’s courthouses over the same timeframe, Melton said. The decision was made during an emergency telephone meeting with judges representing all classes of courts.

Melton said he has not yet declared a statewide judicial emergency, but noted that a number of judges have been asking about suspending jury service and jury trials. Such actions would be consistent, the chief justice said, with Gov. Brian Kemp’s directives to local governments, giving them the authority to close offices, schools and take other actions to protect their communities.

Previously, Melton moved to curtail the number of people entering the new Nathan Deal Judicial Center during the ongoing threat of the coronavirus.

“All of us are being asked to do whatever we can to prevent the spread of this new virus,” he said. “These steps — while inconvenient — are necessary at this time, and I believe are responsible actions.”

Melton said all tours of the new building are now cancelled until further notice. Also, the swearing-in ceremonies of attorneys before oral arguments in the courtroom are being suspended. It’s not unusual for a few dozen lawyers to be sworn in on some occasions.

Finally, while the court remains open to the public, Melton asked that only those who directly participate in the oral arguments attend court sessions — such as the attorneys involved in a case. Members of the news media and other interested parties are urged to watch the arguments on their computers via the court's live video stream.