Georgia’s Coronavirus-prompted judicial emergency has been extended for another month.
Chief Justice Harold Melton announced Monday that he would sign an order this week extending the emergency from May 13, the current expiration date, until June 12.
All criminal and civil jury trials will continue to be suspended, and courts will be barred from summoning and impaneling new trial and grand juries.
While Georgia businesses are gradually reopening following Gov. Brian Kemp’s lifting of his shelter-in-place order late last week, Melton said the courts are different from most private establishments and public places.
“We compel people to attend court proceedings, and that requires us to be extra cautious,” he said.
Since Melton issued the first judicial emergency order in mid-March, courts have remained open to handle critical and essential court services.
Pataula Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Justice Craig Earnest commented, “No non-essential matters shall be heard by the classes of court, including Superior, Juvenile, State, Probate and Magistrate, during the period of this Order, unless they can be conducted in a manner, taking all factors into account, that limits personal contact between any persons involved in a court proceeding.”
Under the new extension order, courts will be urged to develop plans for restoring non-critical operations that can be conducted remotely by videoconferencing or by maintaining adherence to public health guidelines. Increasing the use of remote judicial proceedings where legally permitted is aimed at limiting the backlog once the emergency order is ended.
The state Supreme Court has set an example by starting to hold hearings via remote videoconferencing.
Melton has created a special task force to help courts conduct remote proceedings and develop plans for the safe resumption of more extensive in-court proceedings, including jury trials and grand jury proceedings.
The task force will include judges from every category of courts, civil trial lawyers, court clerks and sheriffs.