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Georgia Supreme Court chief justice cancels jury trials across state
Decision to postpone through 'at least' January due to COVID-19
Newton County Historic Courthouse
Newton County Historic Courthouse - Mason Wittner | The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — All jury trials in the state of Georgia have been suspended through January.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton issued an order Wednesday, Dec. 23, extending a statewide judicial emergency. Within the modifying order, Melton suspended all jury trials across the state for the month of January, at least, due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

In a Tuesday statement on the District Attorney’s Office’s Facebook page, Alcovy Judicial Circuit District Attorney Randy McGinley shed light on the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision. 

“Chief Justice Harold Melton just announced that he will be issuing an order that cancels all jury trials in the state until at least the middle of February,” McGinley wrote.

“Both Newton and Walton had been preparing for jury trials for the week of Jan. 11,” he continued. “This included regular meetings with the judges, District Attorney’s Office, defense attorneys, law enforcement, health departments and others to ensure they would be conducted in a manner that was safe for everyone. However, the rise in numbers of positive cases of COVID-19 was on our radar and something that we were all watching closely. 

“Anyone that received a notice to appear or a subpoena for jury trials to begin on Jan. 11 does not need to appear in court that day,” McGinley said. “Our offices are working to make sure everyone knows of this cancellation. Further updates will be shared when there is relevant news.

“Currently, only jury trials have been canceled,” he said. “Jury trials vary greatly from other court matters because a much larger number of individuals must be summoned to the courthouse so that jury selection can be conducted. Therefore, other criminal and civil court is still moving forward with an emphasis on handling matters using video conferencing when possible. 

“The District Attorney’s Office will continue to be a part of this process in ensuring that the justice system can still function but does so in a safe manner,” McGinley said.

In the order, Melton stated all other court proceedings would continue being held under the COVID-19 guidelines issued by the CDC. All courts are urged to use technology when practicable and lawful to conduct remote judicial proceedings as a safer alternative to in-person proceedings.

Melton lifted a seven-month suspension of jury trials in early October. 

The first judicial emergency was issued by Melton on March 14, 2020. In that time, a statewide task force made up of judges and lawyers appointed by Melton has worked to develop guidelines for the safe reopening of in-person court proceedings.

Topics taken up in the guidelines include the use of masks, the reconfiguring of courtrooms and chairs, installation of plexiglass barriers, and the use of markers to ensure social distancing. Also covered are plans for guaranteeing public access to court proceedings.