Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton Issues Statewide Judicial Emergency Order

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The different branches of the Georgia State Government are moving in quick succession to try to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, the General Assembly indefinitely suspended its Regular 2020 Session. On Friday, Governor Kemp declared a State of Emergency giving him broad powers to combat the health care crisis. 

Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton has now issued a thirty day ORDER DECLARING STATEWIDE JUDICIAL EMERGENCY. Essentially, the order reduces but does not shut down court actions, gives litigants relief during this period of time from responding to statutory deadlines, and provides greater flexibility to judges in how to conduct court business. 

Pursuant to OCGA § 38-3-61 & 62, Justice Melton suspended, tolled, extended, and otherwise granted relief from any:

(1) statute of limitation; (2) time within which to issue a warrant; (3) time within which to try a case for which a demand for speedy trial has been filed; (4) time within which to hold a commitment hearing; (5) deadline or other schedule regarding the detention of a juvenile; (6) time within which to return a bill of indictment or an accusation or to bring a matter before a grand jury; (7) time within which to file a writ of habeas corpus; (8) time within which discovery or any aspect thereof is to be completed; (9) time within which to serve a party;

(10) time within which to appeal or to seek the right to appeal any order, ruling, or other determination; and (11) such other legal proceedings as determined to be necessary by the authorized judicial official.

Justice Melton, however, recognized that certain “essential” court functions need to continue including:

(1) where an immediate liberty or safety concern is present requiring the attention of the court as soon as the court is available; (2) criminal court search warrants, arrest warrants, initial appearances, and bond reviews; (3) domestic abuse temporary protective orders and restraining orders; (4) juvenile court delinquency detention hearings and emergency removal matters; and (5) mental health commitment hearings.

Justice Melton also expressly ordered that criminal trials that were going on with an empaneled jury were to continue absent a showing of “good cause” to suspend or declare a mistrial. The order is silent as to ongoing civil trials presumably leaving these trials to the discretion of the presiding judge hearing the case. Finally, to the extent court proceedings are held, he ordered “they should be done in a manner to limit the risk of exposure, such as by videoconferencing, where possible.”

Within Georgia law, there are additional procedures in place to permit appeals where individuals believe this emergency order creates abuses to an individual’s legal rights. If you have any specific questions or concerns please let us know and we will follow up with further information. 

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