April 2020 brought days of great challenge and uncertainty met with collaborative efforts and perseverance. The continuing statewide judicial emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic prompted judges to innovate and collaborate to continue to serve their communities. As courts all over Georgia addressed the issue of how to operate safely, Chief Justice Melton led weekly emergency Judicial Council meetings via teleconferencing. These collaborative discussions with leaders from every class of court and many judicial branch partners proved to be invaluable in developing emergency orders, guidance, and rule revisions. Despite all of the difficulties, we have many stories of judges who pressed on with the work of the judiciary, and a historic first for the Judicial Council of Georgia that held its April 24th officially scheduled meeting by videoconference which was recorded and is archived here. We are thankful that Executive Director for the Council of Probate Court Judges, Kevin Holder, gave an interview about our state’s terrible loss of Judge Nancy Stephenson and the suffering of other judges. Telling those stories helped the public to understand the impact of COVID-19 and the reason for the Statewide Judicial Emergency Order.
Many judges and courts pivoted to technology quickly: from the Supreme Court, to the Court of Appeals; to Forsyth; Fayette; Cobb; Spalding; Bartow; Fulton and Clayton Counties. We have heard only of successes in these efforts throughout Georgia with no beach attire appearing in any virtual courtroom in Georgia as has been reported in other states. Senior Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan wrote an article for the Daily Report urging the Georgia legal community to embrace this imposed condition as an opportunity to seek efficiencies. The Good Judge-ment podcast recorded an informative special called COVID-19 & The Impact on Georgia’s Judiciary. A sub-committee was created under the Strategic Plan Committee to be chaired by Judge Sarah S. Harris, Bibb County Probate Court to review the strategic plan for revisions that will help support and prepare courts for operating remotely. On April 10th, using safe social distancing protocols, Georgia witnessed 3 judges sworn in outside of the Capitol–Justice Carla McMillian to the Supreme Court of Georgia, and Judge Verda M. Colvin and Judge John A. “Trea” Pipkin to the Court of Appeals.
We also interviewed some judicial leaders to learn how the pivot to technology is going, including: Judge T.J. Hudson; Judge Berryl Anderson; and Judge Jason Ashford. We linked up with a Cartoon Network animator to animate answers from Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Wyant and Superior Court Judge Brian Amero. The JC/AOC staff has also pivoted to working from home and using technology to staff the Judicial Workload Assessment Committee, Board of Court Reporting and the Court Reporting Matters Committee (newly-appointed Justice McMillian presided). The Board of Court Reporting issued Advisory Order 47 regarding remote swearing-in of witnesses. Staffers for the Justice for Children Committee, the Access to Justice Committee and the Child Support Commission have also pivoted to Zoom to continue their regular educational offerings. Juvenile Court Judge Michael Key and Jerry Bruce wrote an article for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges publication. The A2J Committee completed a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Counter Card. The Council of Accountability Court Judges and staff have been providing a special weekly COVID-19 newsletter. JC/AOC staff also worked to set up fiscal, HR, communication, and legal services for Judge Walter Davis and the new Statewide Business Court.
The Office of Dispute Resolution has been providing training and resources for virtual dispute resolution and Judge Clarence Cuthpert was just appointed as a new member of the Commission on Dispute Resolution. Also, Cobb County has issued new rules regarding ADR. We learned that Judge Bodiford is UGA’s School of Law’s inaugural P. Harris Hines “Be Kind” Jurist-in-Residence and has been virtually instructing alongside former Prosecutorial Justice Program Director Alan Cook. We asked if any judge had done a virtual wedding (not yet), but Candler County Probate Court Judge Tony Thompson did get a nice call from a constituent who he had married six years ago on that very day. The constituent just called to thank Judge Thompson for marrying them and to share that he was thinking about the judges who provide community services. That husband also mentioned that this was the first time he had not been able to buy roses for his wife on their anniversary, but he did find her an orchid. Judge Chris Edwards provided JC/AOC Director Cynthia Clanton with a picture of the glass installed to keep the Spalding County Clerk’s Office staff safe, and their message back to the judge.
We updated our wellness page with some articles about keeping one’s immune system strong and we added two videos provided by State Bar of Georgia Wellness Committee member Attorney Dani Berry to help all her fellow attorneys and judicial branch staff during this difficult time. The Chief Justice’s Commission On Professionalism held three, well-attended virtual pop-up CLEs during the month of April on 4/6, 4/16 and 4/28 with participation at different times by Chief Justice Harold Melton, Judge Clyde Reese, Judge Shondeana Morris, Judge Susan Edlein, Judge Michael Barker, Judge Render Heard, and Executive Director of the Council of Superior Court Clerks Michael Holiman. Finally, Judge Bubba Samuels is our latest addition to our video series “Meet the Members of the Judicial Council.”
Please stay safe. Call on us anytime. Talk to you in May.
Your JC/AOC Courts Journal team: Michelle Barclay, Keia Evans, Noelle Lagueux-Alvarez, Bruce Shaw, and our contractor, John Ramspott.