In another sign that the coronavirus pandemic is waning, Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton announced Friday the statewide judicial emergency he first declared in March of last year is about to end.
Following a meeting with members of the state’s Judicial Council, Melton told judges across the state he does not expect the emergency to extend beyond June 30.
On Monday, when the last of a series of emergency orders Melton has issued expires, he said he plans to issue a formal notice terminating the state of emergency effective at the end of the month.
“We’ve been looking at the trend lines in the governor’s public health emergency orders based on revised CDC guidelines and the decline in COVID-19 rates across the state,” Melton said.
“Because I am doubtful that the governor will continue the public health emergency beyond June 30, 2021, I do not expect to issue another order extending beyond June 30 the statewide judicial emergency that has been in place for nearly 15 months already.”
Melton reiterated previous advice that courts and lawyers across Georgia prepare to operate without a statewide judicial emergency in place.
“It will take hard work, creativity, and cooperation to get our courts back to full operations and to resolve the large backlogs of cases that have accumulated due to the restrictions the pandemic required,” he said.
With the statewide emergency order expiring, the chief judges of Georgia’s 49 superior court judicial circuits will have statutory authority to issue local orders to suspend certain legal deadlines and designate alternative court facilities.
Also, under legislation the General Assembly passed this year, the chief judges of superior and state courts will have authority to grant relief from statutory speedy trial requirements in criminal cases for a limited time based on the circumstances in a particular county.
For their part, judges will control the management and operations of their courts, including access to courthouses and courtrooms, which proceedings will be conducted remotely and which will be in-person, and public health precautions for in-person proceedings such as wearing masks and social distancing.
“I am very proud of how nimble and committed our courts have been throughout the entire pandemic to ensure the public health of all those who come to our courts, while safeguarding the rights of Georgia’s citizens,” Melton said. “Our local courts are equipped and ready to carry the load the rest of the way.”