BY: STANLEY DUNLAP – FEBRUARY 8, 2022 7:58 PM
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice David Nahmias delivered his first State of the Judiciary Address last week detailing how a pandemic continues to plague the judicial system across the state.
During Nahmias’s speech to the state Legislature on Feb. 8, he spoke of the difficulties courts face with limited resources, operating courts safely, and the backlog of cases. But he also praised the resilience of attorneys, judges, and other court personnel as they continue to use technology and try to find ways to safely operate the judicial system.
Nahmias was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2009 by Gov. Sonny Perdue and last year was elected as chief justice by his peers to replace Harold Melton, who stepped down last July before joining the Troutman Pepper law firm.
“A wave of COVID cases comes and knocks us a step back,” Nahmias said. “What we still call COVID-19 has now been with us in 2020, 2021, and into 2022. Yet through it all, Georgia’s judges, lawyers, and other participants in our justice system have demonstrated remarkable perseverance, creativity, and resolve to keep our courts operating, even in areas with very limited resources and facilities.”
Nahmias said it would take several years and fewer surges of COVID-19 to tackle problems like in the six-county Southwestern Circuit where 377 open felony cases in 2019 have jumped to more than 900.
“So even when not halted entirely, our judicial system’s capacity to conduct jury trials, and other proceedings that need to be done in-person, is significantly lower because of COVID,” he said.
“This has led to significant backlogs, particularly of the serious criminal cases that are the most likely to go to trial and to have long and complicated trials, including many gang-related and other trials with multiple defendants.”
Following the expiration of the statewide emergency judicial order last July, the guidance on how courts should operate during the public health crisis became more tailored locally, Nahmias said.
This approach helped mitigate a COVID-19 outbreak in the Ware County Magistrate Court that instead of closing courts for 30 days, judges instead allowed for hearings to be held in certain circumstances and court documents to be deposited into a drop box.
Nahmias said the transition to more virtual hearings will be a long-term beneficial change that shifted at a much quicker pace because of the pandemic.
Nahmias commended Gov. Brian Kemp for allocating $110 million in federal grants to supplement court budgets, and for state lawmakers unveiling legislation this year that would provide more resources for mental health and substance abuse services.