Kemp to spend $110 million to address court backlog brought on by COVID-19

Credit: Steve Schaefer for the AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer for the AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday said $110 million in federal COVID-19 relief money will be used to help court systems facing backlogs due to COVID-19 and exacerbated by a rise in violent crime.

The money would be used to add temporary staff — including prosecutors and senior judges — contract for larger facilities to conduct court proceedings and provide additional attorneys to the Georgia Public Defenders Council.

A “judicial emergency,” brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, shut down jury trials for months and caused mountainous backlogs of criminal and civil cases in courthouses across the state. It also led to the suspension of speedy trial demands by criminal defendants and recommendations that court hearings be held remotely when possible.

Kemp on Thursday said: “No one benefits when there is a delay in justice.

“My administration collaborated with leaders from the judicial branch and law enforcement to identify innovative solutions which will help crack down on violent crime in high-need areas, ensure our courts are operating efficiently and help reduce case backlog caused by the pandemic.”

Kemp said he plans to establish a Violent Crime Task Force that will assist district attorneys with their violent-crime casework.

Supreme Court Chief Justice David Nahmias said: “Courts in Georgia have worked hard to continue operating during the pandemic while adhering to pubic health guidelines. Still, many cases were unable to move forward in a safe manner, especially those that require a jury trial.

“These cases must be resolved as courts also handle new cases being filed.”

The grant funding will be administered by the Judicial Council of Georgia and its Administrative Office of the Courts.

Kemp in September announced up to $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds would be used to give $1,000 bonuses to more than 80,000 police and sheriffs’ employees, EMTs, dispatchers, state troopers and guards, full-time firefighters and others.

Atlanta had a historically deadly 2020, when authorities investigated 157 homicide cases — the most in more than two decades. Many parts of the state have seen similar increases in gun violence, although Kemp and Republican lawmakers have focused their attention mostly on Atlanta and criticized the city’s Democratic leadership.

Kemp and lawmakers are up for reelection in 2022.

Committees are scheduled next month to begin reviewing applications to spend some more of the $4.8 billion the state is slated to receive in federal COVID-19 relief funds that congressional Democrats approved in March.