Greetings Courts Journal Readers:
It’s been almost a year now that we’ve been working in socially-distanced environments due to COVID-19 and the statewide judicial emergency order has been extended 11 times since March 14, 2020. Although the JC/AOC confers with DPH regularly, as of this writing, it remains unclear when court employees will be included in the vaccination schedule. Based on recent announcements from the Governor, it now appears that vaccinations for court employees will be further off than we had thought as the definition of those to be included in the first round of vaccinations has been expanded. While this wait is difficult on everyone, it is astounding that humanity has developed such an effective vaccine within one year. We tip our hats to the medical and scientific communities. With the case contagion rate dropping, it is anticipated that jury trials—subject to COVID-19 precautions—will be allowed starting in March and the JC/AOC is preparing to launch the #Justice Needs Jurors public service announcement campaign in April. The Judicial Council General Session was live-streamed and archived on February 12th. At the end of that meeting, Chief Justice Melton announced that he plans to step down from the Supreme Court of Georgia on July 1, 2021, to pursue other professional interests after a 30-year career in government service for the State of Georgia.
Cobb County Superior Court Judge Tain Kell joined our JC/AOC staff meeting this month and he read a moving essay that he wrote describing how he and his staff coped during the past year which was similar to a recent article he wrote for the Daily Report. Our favorite line from Judge Kell, “the courts just moved ten years in one year.” Judge Kell and Judge Wade Padgett have addressed COVID-19’s impact on the courts multiple times in their Good Judge-ment podcast over the past year. Chief Justice Melton, Justice LaGrua, and Judge Amero participated in an interesting panel discussion about COVID-19 and the Courts for the Georgia Bar Media & Judiciary Conference. We have an unusually high number of new judges for 2021 which makes the updating of the Georgia Courts Directory especially challenging. To ensure accuracy, we are sending drafts of the Courts Directory to all judges statewide via email. Please let us know of needed updates. Eventually, the Courts Directory will go to print and it will be mailed to each Georgia judge along with the JC/AOC 2020 Annual Report.
The legislative session is in full swing with crossover day approaching. The JC/AOC Governmental & Trial Court Liaison team is hard at work tracking and reporting on legislation relevant to the Georgia judiciary at legislation.georgiacourts.gov and https://twitter.com/GACourtsLegis. Judge Shermela Williams, Judge Kenya Johnson, and Judge Cassandra Kirk posted great pictures of the wedding ceremonies they performed for their citizens on Valentine’s Day, masks and all. Judge Dillard participated in a talk about using social media to bring the public closer to courts and about a year after its dedication ceremony, he created a tik tok post to give young people a tour of the Nathan Deal Judicial Center. Judges Ethan Pham and Jenny Nguyen were highlighted in the latest GAPABA newsletter. We celebrated #BlackHistoryMonth with profiles of Georgia judges telling us about people who inspired or mentored them which resulted in some wonderful stories. Georgia had over 25 new black judges who were appointed or elected within the past 12 months and we reached out to that group of new judges first when putting together our Black History Month postings. We are looking forward to profiling many of Georgia’s women judges for #WomensHistoryMonth in March.
Georgia Legal Services Program is going through a Pro Bono Transformation and is seeking judicial input through their survey—please take it! We listened to the excellent 38th Edith House Lecture at UGA which featured Justices McMillian and Warren. We enjoyed Fulton County Chief Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher reading aloud via Zoom on what it means to be a good citizen to 3rd graders at Palmetto Elementary in South Fulton County on World Read Aloud Day. Hall County Chief Juvenile Court Judge Lindsay Burton read a wonderful book for her local schools as well. We benefited from watching Cobb County Juvenile Court’s RISING Graduation which we urge you to check out and we were moved by the dedication of the Alcovy Circuit’s Courthouse to the late Judge Horace Johnson. The Chief Justice spoke at both events back to back and linked the work of improving justice in an inspiring way. The Committee on Access to Justice held a meeting and the 5th issue of the Court Professionals newsletter was published this month. We end with a link to the zoom cat lawyer video which seemed to resonate with laughter worldwide. It also provided an opportunity for Chief Justice Melton to join Bloomberg news with other judges to provide five virtual court tips. We grabbed a picture of the Executive Director for the Council of State Court Judges, Bob Bray, testing his new cat filter, but we were not quick enough to grab a picture of Judge Amero’s cat filter effort. Maybe there will be a next time or an even better filter….
Call on us anytime. Talk to you in March.
Your JC/AOC Courts Journal team: Michelle Barclay, Noelle Lagueux-Alvarez, Bruce Shaw, and our contractor, John Ramspott.