Jury trials remain on hold

Douglas County Chief Superior Court Judge David Emerson said a safety plan has been formulated for jury trials when they start back.

Jury trials remain on hold.

Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton issued his 10th statewide judicial emergency last week as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Melton’s order extends the statewide judicial emergency to Feb. 7 at 11:59 p.m.

Melton’s first emergency order came on March 14 in response to the start of the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, he ordered the suspension of grand jury sessions and jury trials.

That order was lifted in November.

The county has not held a jury trial since March, according to Douglas County Chief Superior Court Judge David Emerson.

Grand juries resumed meeting in October, and Douglas County had a combed 60 indictments on two separate days in December.

The 43 indictments on Dec. 10 included a Nov. 6 murder case at the Ravenswood Apartment complex on James D. Simpson Ave., on Nov. 6.

Emerson said in an email to the Sentinel that 2,075 civil cases had been disposed while 2,073 new cases have been filed. In all, he said there are 1,193 pending cases now.

Last year, the courts disposed of 1,595 criminal cases from misdemeanor crimes to capital offenses.

Emerson said they have reduced pending criminal cases down to 1,394 from 1,832 cases.

“That said, we anticipate a large surge in cases because we were not able to bring in the grand jury for many months due to the Emergency Order from the Chief Justice,” Emerson wrote in the email. “I do not know how many ‘undrawn’ cases there are in the District Attorney’s Office.”

The order also reminded courts that any in-person proceedings “must be conducted in full compliance with public health guidance.”

Emerson said the courts have a plan for when in-person proceedings can resume. He said a team effort of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, Sheriff’s Office courthouse team and the previous Clerk of Court have developed guidelines.

The plan, according to Emerson, will use social distancing and a lot of plexiglass barriers, sneeze-guards, masks, and hand sanitizer.

“We will also reduce the number of jurors we have reporting at any give time,” he said.