MONROE, Ga. — The loss of a judge and spread of COVID-19 have caused a local judicial emergency.
Chief Judge John M. Ott issued the declaration Wednesday morning, a day after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 himself.
Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr. died earlier Wednesday. Ott’s order noted “the loss of a true public servant resulting in a need to further assess judicial resources.”
Ott said he was declaring the judicial emergency due to having “several judges and staff” in the Newton and Walton courthouses diagnosed with COVID-19.
Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown said his deputies were called to Johnson’s home due to a cardiac arrest, but it had been shared that he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The order closes the courthouses of Newton and Walton counties from Wednesday through July 14. Unless the order is extended, normal courthouse operations would resume at 8 a.m. Wednesday, July 15.
Courts will remain “minimally open to address essential functions.” Ott said Tuesday he was equipped to conduct hearings via video conference from his home during a two-week quarantine period.
The Georgia National Guard was expected in both the Newton and Walton courthouses over the next couple of days to clean after the presence of people who have since been diagnosed with COVID-19, multiple officials said.
The order to close the courthouse wouldn’t necessarily apply to the entire Walton County Government Building. Court offices don’t take up all of the space. Board of Commissioners Chairman Kevin Little said he and emergency manager Carl Morrow were considering their options early Wednesday afternoon.
The Newton County Judicial Center — where citizens conduct day-to-day operations like buying car tags and paying property taxes — Public Defenders Office, Administration building, Historic Courthouse and Public Works building closed at noon Wednesday and will remain closed Thursday, July 2, due to COVID-19. The National Guard will conduct a thorough deep cleaning of the board of commissioners office buildings and judicial center prior to reopening at 8 a.m. Monday, July 6.
Tom Spigolon, news editor of The Covington News, contributed to this report.