The closure of state courts to trials and many other hearings will continue through June 12 in an extension of a pandemic emergency order.

Harold Melton, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, first declared the emergency March 14. Following an earlier renewal, it was to expire May 13.

The extension comes as many Georgia businesses are reopening after a controversial decision by Gov. Brian Kemp to lift some shutdown and shelter-in-place restrictions. In a press release, Melton said that social distancing requirements make the judicial emergency extension necessary.

“The courts are different from most private establishments and public places in that we compel people to attend court proceedings, and that requires us to be extra cautious,” he said.

Under the order, criminal and civil jury trials will continue to be suspended, as will a prohibition on summoning jurors. Courts remain opening for essential and emergency actions.

The shutdown means that courts will face a growing backlog of cases. The press release says that courts will be “urged” to use technology to deal with that as much as possible, including by teleconferenced judicial hearings. Under the updated order, the press release says, “judges will have clearer authority to move certain cases.”

The extension order will make it clear that chief judges of judicial circuits “may impose more restrictive judicial emergency orders if required by local conditions,” the press release says. It will direct each court to develop health guidelines for in-person proceedings and to post them in the court and online.

Melton will form a task force to advise courts on conducting remote proceedings and planning for more in-court proceedings, the press release said.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.