The Supreme Court of Georgia has promulgated rules and revised deadlines to deal with the stay at home and shelter in place demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. These essentially amount to an extension of all court filing and response deadlines. Much of the regular business of the state’s court system has been shut down since March 14, when Chief Justice Harold Melton declared a state of judicial emergency because of the pandemic. That order has since been extended to June 12, meaning no trials have been held or grand juries convened in the past 10 weeks. This has created a huge backlog of cases that would all hit at a time when the courts will be forced to furlough and lay off staff to meet the state’s requirement to cut spending. This two-edged whammy will result in trial delays for those injured in Georgia and who have sought redress from the courts.
Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, the chairman of the Senate judicial budget subcommittee, started Monday’s hearing at the capitol with court officials by reminding them of the state of the economy. He said not every agency may wind up having to cut 14%, but that every agency, from the Supreme Court to the Department of Education, had to suggest spending cuts. “The governor’s office is not exempt from this 14% reduction proposal, nor is the legislative branch, nor is any executive branch agency, and the judicial branch is not either,” Ligon said.
The Honorable Sara Doyle, the presiding judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals, set the tone by telling lawmakers that to meet the proposed cuts the court would have to let go 17 or 18 staff members and furlough others for 22 days in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. “The end result is an appellate court that can’t fully function or won’t fully function,” she said. “Now more than ever, this country and this state need fully functioning courts at all levels and not one working with half the necessary staff on a shortened work year,” she said. “While the cuts being requested are a terrible burden on my court’s ability to function and to those who will lose their livelihood, the impact on the state and the people who live and do business here is much more profound if its court system is crippled.”