Atlanta, June 12, 2020 – Chief Justice Harold D. Melton announced today that he has extended until Sunday, July 12, 2020, the statewide judicial emergency that he initially declared on March 14.
After consulting with the Judicial Council of Georgia, the Judicial COVID- 19 Task Force, and other judicial partners, and recognizing again that most
in-court proceedings compel the attendance of various individuals rather than allowing them to decide how best to protect their own health, Chief Justice Melton determined that the Statewide Judicial Emergency Order should be extended for a third time, but with significant modifications.
Today’s extension order outlines a plan to allow more pending and newly filed cases to move forward by reimposing as of July 14, 2020 all legal deadlines on litigants in civil and criminal cases, except for deadlines related to jury trial and grand jury proceedings. Although deadlines imposed on courts will remain suspended, the order urges courts to “work diligently to clear the backlog and to comply with usual deadlines and timetables to the extent safe and practicable.” The order also authorizes judges to reimpose deadlines before July 14 on a case-by-case basis.
“We continue to encourage courts to use technology to conduct remote judicial proceedings as a safe alternative to in-person proceedings,” Chief Justice Melton said. “But as our courts implement guidelines for safe in-person proceedings, we want to ensure that more cases are ready for judges to rule on.”
As Georgia continues to reopen, the courts are also working to reopen their courtrooms safely. With the exception of jury and most grand jury proceedings, courts have discretion to conduct in-person judicial proceedings, but only in compliance with public health guidelines and constitutional requirements. Each court must develop and implement operating guidelines to protect the health of litigants, lawyers, judges, court personnel, and the public. These operating guidelines will be posted at courthouses and online by the Administrative Office of the Courts at https://georgiacourts.gov/covid-19-court-operating-guidelines/.
The Judicial Covid-19 Task Force established in May is currently developing policies, procedures, and templates to allow for the safe resumption of jury and grand jury proceedings. This guidance should be available in July 2020, but it is unlikely that jury proceedings will begin before August, at the earliest. The Judicial Council Strategic Planning Committee and the Judicial Covid-19 Task Force has already issued the “Georgia Courts Reopening Guide” included in the Appendix to the extension order.
As Chief Justice Melton continues to carefully monitor the situation, he encourages all lawyers to face these challenging times with professionalism and reminds judges of their obligation to dispose of all judicial matters promptly and fairly and with patience and sensitivity to the health concerns raised by court officials, litigants, and their lawyers, witnesses, and others.
The extension order contains detailed information and guidance for judges, lawyers, and the public. It is available at https://www.gasupreme.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/THIRD_ORDER_EXTENDING_DECLARATION_OF_STATEWIDE_JUDICIAL_EMERGENCY_AS_ISSUED.pdf