The ban due to the Covid-19 pandemic has been lifted and we should see some civil actions such as dental malpractice, medical malpractice and other personal injury type cases going to trial soon.
Chief Justice Harold D. Melton issued an order last night that lifts the suspension of jury trials in Georgia, “effective immediately.” With today’s order, which is the 12th he has signed extending the Statewide Judicial Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, trial courts may resume jury trials, “if that can be done safely and in accordance with a final jury trial plan developed in collaboration with the local committee of judicial system participants and incorporated into the court’s written operating guidelines for in-person proceedings.” Obviously, the onus is on “safety” and it is up to the judiciary, of which I and other members of the State Bar of Georgia, are a part of, to craft wasy that we can get back to conducting jury trials in a way that does not compromise the safety of the litgants, court staff, jurors, judges and attorneys.
Since the first announced Statewide Judicial Emergency on March 14, 2020 shortly after COVID-19 became prevalent in Georgia nearly a year ago, Georgia state and supeior courts have remained open, but jury trials were suspended due to the number of people required to gather at courthouses. There was a short repreive in October 2020, but then Chief Justice Melton was forced to re-implement the ban due to a significant increase in coronavirus cases.
Cases of COVID-19 have declined now and, as the Chief Justice has stated in his recent order, the prohibition against conducting jury trials is lifted and trial courts, in their discretion, may resume jury trials as local conditions allow.” As we all know, and as the Chief Justice Melton states in his new public service announcement, “a trial by a jury of one’s peers is “fundamental to the American justice system.” I am confident that we can craft safeguards to protect all involved and resume jury trials so long as we continue to use safety protocols designed to protect people in the courtroom while allowing the trials to proceed. These protocols should include, among other things, screening for health risks of all parties and jurors, temperature checks, masks, plexiglass barriers, touch-free evidence technology, constant surface cleaning, the use of Zoom and remote testimony when feasible, relaxation of evidence rules related to foundation and authenticity (when not contested) and conduting trials with an eye towards maintaining social distancing.
This is exciting news and hopefully it is the beginning of numerous phases of re-introducing the jury trial back into Georgia. As we have discussed, this is something we all know is fundamental to fair access to the court system and will promote justice for all citizens in Georgia. After all, when someone has been wronged though no fault of their own, the injured party deserves their day in court. Anything less would be a miscarriage of justice. Many times, I have heard great lawyers and judges in Georgia remind jurors that, “the wheels of justice grind slowly.” The past year has beared this out, to be sure. But, the second part of this phrase is equally important: “But they grind fairly.” With the year-long ban on jury trials apparently over, and barring any unforeseen complications in the near future; jury trials to be resumed at first cautiously and later in the year hopfeully back to normal (whatever that word means today), this is great news for the Georgia civil justice process and all of those involved in it.
For over 25 years, Attorney Robert J. Fleming has been handling dental malpractice, medical malpractice and other personal injury lawsuits for individuals and families who have been injured or died as a result of the negligence of others in the Atlanta, Georgia area. He is a partner in the law firm of Katz Wright Fleming & Dodson, LLC and regularly handles cases in Atlanta as well as Alpharetta, Brookhaven, College Park, Duluth, Decatur, Doraville, Johns Creek, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree City, Riverdale, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, Smyrna, Peachtree City, and other cities in Georgia. He is committed to making a difference in his clients’ lives. If you or a family member have been seriously injured or died as a result of negligence and would like quality legal representation or if you would just like to consult about a potential case, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.