January 2021

Happy New Year, Courts Journal Readers:

We welcome 2021 with the encouraging news from the Georgia Department of Public Health that court employees will be part of phase 1B of the COVID-19 vaccination schedule. Healthcare providers are currently vaccinating those in phase “1A plus,” and an exact date for the start of phase 1B has not been set. The Judicial Council of Georgia met once for an emergency session during the month of January, which was live-streamed and archived.   The 10th extension of the statewide judicial emergency ordered by Chief Justice Melton will expire on February 7th and currently prohibits jury trials. We were glad to see former Justice Robert Benham receive the COVID-19 vaccine publicly in service to others.

Justice Robert Benham (ret.) receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo credit – The Daily Tribune News.
Court employees are currently part of phase 1b of the vaccine rollout.

The Supreme Court of Georgia issued a press release celebrating Justice Shawn Ellen  LaGrua, who was sworn in on January 7th. When Justice LaGrua served as a member of the Judicial Council of Georgia, we had a chance to interview her about her path to becoming a judge, founding the My Journey Matters Program, and more. A recording of that interview may be found on the Judicial Council’s YouTube channel. Judge Doyle, Judge Brown, Judge Gobeil, and Judge Markle were all recently sworn in by Governor Kemp as they continue their service on the Court of Appeals. The legislative session began on January 11th with Judge Brenda Weaver administering the oath of office to the members of the Georgia House and Justice Charlie Bethel administering the oath to the members of the Georgia Senate. Readers can track legislative initiatives at legislation.georgiacourts.gov and https://twitter.com/GACourtsLegis.

Left: Justice Shawn E. LaGrua being sworn in to the Supreme Court of Georgia. Top right: Justice Charlie Bethel swearing in Georgia State Senators. Bottom right: Judge Brenda Weaver swearing in Georgia State Representatives.

We are looking forward to World Read Aloud Day, which this year falls on February 3rd, as we know that Fulton County Chief Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher will be reading aloud via Zoom on what it means to be a good citizen to 3rd graders at Palmetto Elementary in South Fulton County. Let us know if you are doing anything similar or would like to as we would love to support and promote your efforts in the name of community engagement and civics education. We benefited from CJCJ President and Juvenile Court Judge Lisa Jones of the Southwestern Judicial Circuit speaking at our JC/AOC staff meeting as she reminded us about the importance of wellness within the judicial community. We appreciated Superior Court Judge Tain Kell’s recent article, COVID Hasn’t Been a ‘Vacation’ for the Courts; as well as the Forsyth Courts’ posts of new attorneys being sworn in and Fayette State Court Judge Jason Thompson’s DUI/Drug Court and Veterans Treatment Court team pictures.

World Read Aloud Day 2021.
Judge Lisa C. Jones, Southwestern Circuit Juvenile Court, speaking at the JC/AOC January staff meeting.

Staffing for all Judicial Council meetings (30 over the past 12 months) and the Judicial Council COVID-19 Task Force (now co-chaired by Forsyth County Chief State Court Judge T. Russell McClelland) continues. JC/AOC contract attorney, Tabitha Ponder, also continues to serve the Access to Justice Committee as well as the Committee on Improving Community Access to Legal Resources chaired by Justice Charlie Bethel and Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, along with John Botero. We solicited a lovely story about the impact of a record restriction clinic hosted recently by the A2J Committee with many partners. JC/AOC staffer and former Georgia Juvenile Court Judge, Jerry Bruce, published an excellent Best Interest Advocacy Guide in partnership with Georgia CASAThe Justice for Children Committee is also profiling its committee members weekly to honor their experience and service to Georgia’s children, see Juvenile Court Judges Render Heard (Tifton) and Amanda Heath (Augusta)

The JC/AOC Office of Research and Data Analysis would like to remind you about the ongoing caseload reporting efforts and Bench CardT.J. BeMent was a guest on the Good Judge-ment Podcast twice this month to discuss (1) how to build a courthouse (ep. 53) and (2) how to implement a case management system (ep. 54). We applaud the Suwanee Municipal Court for being selected as Georgia’s 2020 Municipal Court Program of the Year by the Court Clerks Council, which noted the Court’s state-of-the-art queuing platform. We enjoyed this interview with Fulton Magistrate Court Judge Cassandra Kirk about using technology to connect to court users.  We close our newsletter with two social media posts that made us smile this month and we leave you with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  that inspired us this month .

Rockdale County Magistrate Court Judge Garland Moore posted that he has set up his Christmas present.
Superior Court Judge Art Smith of the Chattahoochee Circuit reading a happy birthday book to his one-year-old grandson.

Call on us anytime.  Talk to you in February.

Your JC/AOC Courts Journal team:  Michelle Barclay, Noelle Lagueux-Alvarez, Bruce Shaw, and our contractor, John Ramspott.