Athens and Oconee County residents may receive jury summons this week as trials are expected to start up again later this month, more than a year after Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton declared a judicial emergency.
Western Circuit Superior Court judges Eric Norris and Lisa Lott told Flagpole they expect Melton to lift the order soon, paving the way for jury trials to resume and grand juries to once again consider indictments. They cited COVID-19 numbers, which are declining locally and statewide, and the increasing number of people who’ve been vaccinated against the virus, as well as a long backlog of criminal cases.
The plan calls for trials to resume in Oconee County on Mar. 22 and Clarke County on Mar. 29. In Oconee County, jury selection will be held at the spacious civic center, with trials in the larger of the county courthouse’s two courtrooms. Both jury selection and trials in Clarke County will be held at the Classic Center’s Foundry Street Warehouses—which has several large rooms with removable dividers where jurors and court personnel can socially distance—instead of the cramped courthouse, which is often overcrowded even in normal times. The Classic Center has filtration and sanitation equipment and requires all visitors to wear masks.
“We want people to feel secure coming,” Lott said. “The big question is whether people show up.”
Summonses will include information about safety protocols and how to opt out if an individual is at high risk or has caregiver responsibilities for a high-risk person, the judges said. Many court proceedings, such as bond hearings, will continue to be conducted virtually.
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