COVINGTON, Ga. — The first jury trials in more than a year in Newton County are set to begin next week.
Juries are set to be chosen under COVID-19 protocols for social distancing and mask-wearing beginning Monday, April 12, in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit.
District Attorney Randy McGinley said cases awaiting jury trials in Newton County courts will be allowed to proceed after being postponed since March 2020.
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton issued an order March 9 allowing jury trials to resume in Georgia.
McGinley served as a member of a Jury Trial Committee the State Supreme Court mandated to meet in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, which includes Newton and Walton counties.
He said he and members of his office met with judges, private attorneys, and representatives from the sheriff's and public defender offices, Clerks of Court, county IT and facilities departments, and local health officials.
“This committee was charged with coming up with written plans and guidelines to safely and effectively resume jury trials,” McGinley said.
“This has been completed and we are confident that jury trials will be handled safely for all involved, including the public that is summoned for jury duty.”
Superior Court Judge Cheveda McCamy said she was encouraging Newton residents to respond to being called to serve so the constitutional rights of those seeking trials by juries can be protected.
She said residents from all walks of life should be ready to serve on juries because “you don’t want just one group of people making the decisions” on defendants’ guilt or innocence.
“It takes everybody to make sure justice is served,” McCamy said.
The judge noted that jury members will be required to wear masks and be socially distanced in the courtroom rather than relatively close together in a jury box.
Trials will be live-streamed to adjacent courtrooms for members of the public so that jury members can spread out, McCamy said.
“We’re definitely taking precautions,” she said.
McGinley said the year-long delay has “left numerous victims and defendants, as well as the communities at large, in limbo awaiting the resolution of many important cases.”
“This also has put an enormous strain on the local jails as well as all local law enforcement departments,” McGinley wrote on his office’s Facebook page.
In Newton County, Superior Court Judge Ken Wynne will preside over jury trials beginning Monday, April 12, for civil cases.
Criminal jury trials will begin the following week, with Judge Ken Foster presiding beginning April 19; and Wynne presiding the week of April 26, McGinley said.
Foster will oversee a pre-trial status conference Wednesday, April 7, for all criminal defendants scheduled to appear for the weeks of April 19 and 26, he said.
A total of 150 jurors were summoned for the week of April 19 and 200 for the week of April 26.
Jurors selected to serve in a criminal case will serve until the end of the trial of that case — usually when a verdict is reached, he said.
“That could be anywhere from less than one day to a week or more depending on what case is selected,” McGinley said.