Opinion: Getting back to business of justice, jury trials in Ga.

06/07/2021 — Warrenton, Georgia — A second courtroom with more space was used during the COVID-19 pandemic at the Warren County Community Service Building in downtown Warrenton, Thursday, June 3, 2021.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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06/07/2021 — Warrenton, Georgia — A second courtroom with more space was used during the COVID-19 pandemic at the Warren County Community Service Building in downtown Warrenton, Thursday, June 3, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

In March of 2020, I made the tough decision to declare a Statewide Judicial Emergency. The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 was starting to ravage our country and we had to protect our citizens, judges, and judicial employees from the virus. Jury trials were suspended in Georgia shortly after.

During the past 15 months, just as others have, we’ve lost members of our judicial family to the virus, from staff to judges. It’s been a heartbreaking time for our country.

Halting jury trials was a decision we did not make lightly, because the right to a trial by jury is fundamental to the American system of justice.

Delaying that process has made a tough situation even more difficult for those awaiting justice.

In October 2020, I lifted the restrictions on jury trials. But after a new spike in cases and a disturbing spread of the virus, on Dec. 23, 2020, I again suspended jury trials.

Finally, in an order on May 9, 2021, I lifted the suspension of jury trials “effective immediately,” and since then, courts have begun resuming jury trials.

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SEPTEMBER 2018 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

SEPTEMBER 2018 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Combined ShapeCaption
SEPTEMBER 2018 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Thanks to vaccine availability and COVID protocols, our courthouses and courtrooms are ready.

That’s where you come in. Every citizen in this state is critical to the judicial process.

We cannot conduct jury trials without jurors.

As one of my final projects as Chief Justice as I resign from the bench at the end of June, I made a series of public service announcements that have been running on TV and streaming services to urge citizens to serve as jurors. The videos can be viewed here.

I’m writing this article to keep up this encouragement. If you are selected for jury duty, we hope you will reply to the summons and do your civic duty.

Justice needs jurors.

If you are called to jury duty, we will do our part to keep you and your loved ones as safe as we can. We of course encourage you to get the vaccine, as we have encouraged our courthouse judges and staff.

In addition, working with medical experts, we’ve established rigorous safety protocols for our courthouses, courtrooms, and jury spaces.

You can visit our website for more information on the COVID protocols for each judicial circuit.

So please serve as a juror if you are called and talk about it with your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and others. We need you.

Thank you in advance for helping us get back to the business of justice.

Chief Justice Harold D. Melton was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 2005 by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue. In September 2018, he was sworn in as Chief Justice. He will resign from the state’s high court effective July 1, 2021.