March 2020

Greetings Courts Journal Readers:

COVID-19 changed most Georgia court operations and our day-to-day lives in one short week.  It is our hope that each of you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We know you are all well aware of the statewide judicial emergency order that Chief Justice Melton entered on Saturday, March 14.  We are all so grateful to the members of the initial Judicial Council Court Emergency Management Committee, led by Chief Justice Melton and staffed by former AOC employees, Bob Bray and Kelly McQueen, with many writers listed on page 3 of the Pandemic Bench Book which was first completed in 2009.  The book was updated by the members of the Sub-Committee on Emergency Preparedness and Continuity of Judicial Operations in 2017/2018, led by Judge Sarah Doyle and staffed by Jessica Farah, Anne Sanford, Kristi-Ann Walters, and many others.  All of us are so grateful to the Chief Justice for his leadership during this time, as social distancing and teleconferencing saves lives.  We at the JC/AOC are teleworking until April 13. We have had some low-level exposure due to later-confirmed cases at the Capitol and we think it is safest for all of us to self isolate.  At the moment, we are happy to report that all AOC employees and our clients (CPCJ, CMCJ, ODR, CSCJ, CACJ) are well, albeit with periodic understandable worries about pollen reactions. The CACJ wrote up a great COVID-19 special edition of its newsletter for accountability court judges. 

We are unveiling our new wellness section of the Courts Journal today.  We wrote this section in anticipation of the April 2020 Suicide Awareness Program (contemplating teleconferencing) and the May 2020 Wellness retreat (canceled) but we (humans) will need to take good care of ourselves now and in the future.  It feels like the definition of wellness has changed this month from managing stress to managing our collective immune system. The Chief Justice urged attention to wellness in his State of the Judiciary speech and we will continue to do so.  As you know, the legislature is on hiatus and under self-quarantine, however, the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 budget did pass and all the details are here.  We so appreciate Bob Bray strumming some tunes as our team waited for cross-over day to come to a close.

Council of State Court Judges Executive Director Bob Bray keeping us company during the evening of Crossover Day.

Many of you have used social media or regular media effectively as a way to communicate directly with your staff and citizenry over this past week.  Our millennial staffer, Keia Evans, wrote up her version of a practical guide to social media engagement in case it helps you right now, after reading and listening to Judge Dillard talk about this subject.  We have also just started creating a community engagement clearinghouse which will include civics lessons for Law Day (May 1), Constitution Day (September 17) and Bill of Rights Day (December 15), as well as every day civics lessons.  We are partnering with Georgia DOE and our Georgia iCivics champions to create varied short lesson plans.  We are still exploring a way for a judge or judges to offer a virtual civics lesson to classrooms about the 19th amendment (the ABA Law Day theme this year) in May 2020.  Please write one of us if you’d be up for an experiment like that.

We are pleased to report some resources for self-represented litigants and we got a notice that the Dougherty County Law Library Self-Help Center is still open for business via phone and technology.  Athens Access to Justice paired up with UGA students to unveil a new website which looks very helpful to self-represented litigants.   The Judicial Council Access to Justice Committee is talking to multiple partners to explore an on-line portal for doing expungements instead of in-person expungement clinics.  March is Women’s History Month and we have been posting judge profile cards to celebrate our women judges and we created a summary of all of our posts.  Thank you to all of the judges who agreed to participate in this project.  We have enjoyed the engagement as it helped give us a daily dose of normalcy.

We had plenty of great judicial stories that we are calling pre-covid so let’s run through them now.  The DUI Treatment Court of the Athens-Clarke County State Court was recognized as one of the Four National Academy Courts by the National Center for DWI Courts & National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shukura Millender celebrated #ReadAcrossAmericaDay early by reading the book titled Tomorrow I’ll be Kind and donating the book to her local elementary school in the name of the late Justice Harris Hines who used to end his speeches with the words “Be Kind”.  The Council of Municipal Court Judges & the Council of State Court Judges hosted events at the Capitol.  Fulton Chief Judge Chris Brasher was profiled in the Daily Report.  The J4C team held a Child Welfare Law Specialist CLE and honored the attorneys who stepped up to become the first class of CWLS grads.  Mercer University School of Law recently honored three Georgia judges and Mercer grads during its Annual Alumni Meeting and Dinner held on February 29, 2020 in Atlanta: Justice Michael Boggs, Judge Carl Brown & Judge Rizza O’Connor.

Congratulations to two new judges who were sworn-in this month by Governor Kemp at the Georgia State Capitol: Judge Joseph Cushner, State Court of Bulloch County, and Judge Benjamin D. Coker, Superior Court of the Griffin Judicial Circuit.  We lost judicial leaders for Georgia this past month and we will post service details here.   Judge Kelli Wolk and Judge Van Pelt are our latest additions to the video series, Meet the Members of the Judicial Council.  We have a staff profile of Christopher Hansard to share.   We leave you with this keynote talk by Richard Susskind from the 2019 Court Technology Conference where he suggests to the audience that the future will see the court as a service as opposed to a place.

Please stay safe. Call on us anytime.  Talk to you in April.

Your JC/AOC Courts Journal team:  Michelle Barclay, Keia Evans, Noelle Lagueux-Alvarez, Bruce Shaw, and our contractors, Patricia Buonodono & John Ramspott.