Statewide Judicial Emergency: Judicial Order by the Supreme Court of Georgia Declaring a Statewide Judicial Emergency

JurisdictionGeorgia,United States
Publication year2020
CitationVol. 37 No. 1

STATEWIDE JUDICIAL EMERGENCY: Judicial Order by the Supreme Court of Georgia Declaring a Statewide Judicial Emergency

Stephanie J. Remy
Georgia State University College of Law, sremy2@student.gsu.edu

Brittiny K. Slicker
Georgia State University College of Law, bslicker1@student.gsu.edu

STATEWIDE JUDICIAL EMERGENCY


Judicial Order by the Supreme Court of Georgia Declaring a Statewide Judicial Emergency

Code Sections: O.C.G.A. §§ 38-3-60, -61, -62, -63, -64

Judicial Orders: Order Declaring Statewide Judicial Emergency; Order Extending Declaration of Statewide Judicial Emergency; Second Order Extending Declaration of Statewide Judicial Emergency; Third Order Extending Declaration of Statewide Judicial Emergency; Fourth Order Extending Declaration of Statewide Judicial Emergency

Effective Dates: March 14, 2020; April 6, 2020; May 11, 2020; June 12, 2020; July 10, 2020

Summary: The Supreme Court of Georgia issued an Order declaring a Statewide Judicial Emergency to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 throughout the State of Georgia. The courts remained open to address essential functions, as defined within the Order. Additionally, all deadlines and other filing requirements were extended or tolled. Throughout the counties in Georgia, different courts released Orders outlining how they would follow the Judicial Emergency Order from the Supreme Court of Georgia. The Judicial Emergency Order had been extended four times as of August 1, 2020.

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Introduction

In March of 2020, many entities called for states to declare a state of emergency to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. First, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.1 Following that, and due to increasing cases, the United States declared a state of emergency on March 13, and Georgia declared a Public Health State of Emergency on March 14.2 Governor Brian Kemp (R) stated that the "public health emergency is unprecedented for the State of Georgia, and that [he does] not take this action lightly. It is a more specialized form of a state of emergency and allows for a more robust response to the crisis specifically in the healthcare sector."3

Following Governor Kemp's declaration, the Supreme Court of Georgia declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency on March 14, 2020.4 Before the Governor declared the Public Health State of Emergency, the Governor and the judiciary's approach focused on local hotspots.5 After hearing the concerns from judges across the state regarding the spread of the virus, however, the Judicial Council conducted an emergency hearing to examine the issue.6 Following this hearing, Chief Justice Melton of the Supreme Court of Georgia declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency on March 14, 2020.7

The Statewide Judicial Emergency Order focused on the mission of the judicial system: the "safeguarding] of basic human rights."8 As such, the Supreme Court of Georgia drafted the Order to balance

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the protection of court staff with the need to keep Georgia's courts running.9 When crafting the Order, the court adhered to the guidelines in the Georgia Code, which allow an authorized judicial official to declare emergencies.10

Code sections 38-3-60 through 38-3-64 allow the authorized judicial official to declare a judicial emergency.11 Specifically, Code section 38-3-61 states that a judicial emergency:

[S]hall be limited to an initial duration of not more than 30 days; provided, however, that the [O]rder may be modified or extended for no more than two periods not exceeding 30 days each unless a public health emergency exists as set forth in Code Section 38-3-51, in which case the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia may extend the [E]mergency [O]rder for so long as such emergency exists, as declared by the Governor.12

Additionally, the statute sets out further requirements regarding the suspension or tolling of deadlines in Code section 38-3-62, regarding notification in Code section 38-3-63, and regarding the appeal rights of adversely affected parties in Code section 38-3-64.13 In addition to these requirements, the judicial branch may transfer court business to a different facility and may extend court deadlines, provided the court specifies the "exact length of time a deadline will be extended by a judicial emergency."14 These Code sections provide guidelines and considerations for declaring an emergency and creating the Judicial Order.

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Judicial Order Tracking

Following Governor Kemp's declaration of a statewide emergency in Georgia, Chief Justice Melton declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency.15 The Governor issued the Statewide Emergency Order on March 13, 2020.16 Chief Justice Melton then issued the Statewide Judicial Emergency Order effective on March 14, 2020.17

On March 13, 2020, multiple Georgia courts issued Judicial Emergency Orders modeling the Statewide Judicial Emergency Order from the Supreme Court of Georgia.18 Due to the thirty-day limitation on the Judicial Emergency Orders, the first Statewide Judicial Emergency Order terminated on April 13, 2020, at 11:59 PM.19 Chief Justice Melton extended the Statewide Judicial Emergency Order on April 6, 2020, setting the Order to expire on May 13, 2020, at 11:59 PM.20 On May 11, 2020, Chief Justice Melton issued a second Order extending the Statewide Judicial Emergency Order, moving the May 13, 2020, deadline to June 12, 2020, at 11:59 PM.21 On June 12, 2020, Chief Justice Melton issued a

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third Order extending the Statewide Judicial Emergency Order to terminate on July 12, 2020, at 11:59 PM.22 On July 10, 2020, Chief Justice Melton issued a fourth Order extending the Statewide Judicial Emergency Order to terminate on August 11, 2020, at 11:59 PM.23

Background

In issuing and subsequently extending the Orders, the Supreme Court of Georgia declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency pursuant to Code section 38-3-61.24 The overall purpose of the Orders was to "protect the health, safety, and liberty of all citizens in the State."25

Order Declaring Statewide Judicial Emergency

The Statewide Judicial Emergency Order declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency in the State of Georgia due to COVID-19.26 The Order instructed courts to remain open for essential functions.27 However, the Order left the interpretation of what functions qualify as "essential" open for the courts to decide, absent specified examples included within the Order.28 The essential functions specified within the Order included: (1) cases involving immediate safety or liberty concerns; (2) "criminal court search warrants, arrest warrants, initial appearances, and bond reviews"; (3) protective and

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restraining orders in domestic abuse cases; (4) "juvenile court delinquency detention hearing and emergency removal matters"; and (5) "mental health commitment hearings."29

The Order further stated that criminal cases that have already commenced may continue, be suspended, or declared a mistrial for good cause.30 The decision to suspend or declare a mistrial was left to the presiding judges.31 The Order also recommended allowing videoconferencing wherever possible for open matters.32

Lastly, the Order suspended, tolled, extended, and granted relief for all deadlines and filing requirements in both civil and criminal cases.33 The Order gave eleven examples of deadlines where such relief may be appropriate: statute of limitations; deadlines to issue warrants; speedy trial time frames; commitment hearing time frames; juvenile detention deadlines; time frames for bills of indictment or accusations or "to bring a matter before a grand jury"; time to file writs of habeas corpus; discovery deadlines; service deadlines on opposing parties; timelines to appeal orders, rulings, or "other determination[s]"; and any other legal proceedings deemed necessary by "authorized judicial official[s]."34

Order Extending Statewide Judicial Emergency Order

The Order Extending the Statewide Judicial Emergency Order (First Extension Order) extended the first Statewide Judicial Emergency Order and reminded all lawyers "of their obligations of professionalism."35 Additionally, the First Extension Order encouraged courts to be "consistent with public health guidance" and to use videoconferences to "reduce backlogs when the judicial emergency ends."36

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Second Order Extending Statewide Judicial Emergency Order

The Second Order Extending the Statewide Judicial Emergency Order (Second Extension Order) further extended the first Statewide Judicial Emergency Order and provided additional guidelines for Georgia courts.37

Section 1

The Second Extension Order directed lower courts to various documents providing guidance on the application of the Order, including guidance on grand jury proceedings, continued authority of grand juries, deadlines and time limits, tolling statutes of limitations, tolling of filing deadlines, amendments to court rules, and guidance on judiciary response to COVID-19.38 The Second Extension Order reminded judges that they still had authority to reinstitute deadlines on a "case-specific basis."39

Section 2

The Second Extension Order also prohibited all courts from summoning new jurors for any purpose.40 For instances where grand juries were already impaneled, the courts were instructed not to assemble the grand juries except "when necessary."41

Section 3

The Second Extension Order highlighted the importance of using videoconferencing and teleconferences.42 The Second Extension Order gave courts the authority to compel "litigants, lawyers,

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witnesses, and other essential personnel" to participate in remote judicial proceedings.43

Section 4

The Second Extension Order also allowed courts to begin to conduct non-essential, in-person judicial proceedings, but only if in compliance with public health guidance.44 The Order instructed lower courts to provide guidelines to the public before "conducting extensive in-person proceedings."45 For support in...

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