U.S. Court and Georgia Closings, Cancellations and Restrictions Due to COVID-19
In response to public health guidance related to COVID-19 (coronavirus), many U.S. courts (state and federal) and agencies adjusted the way they operate. Each court is making its own modifications under the circumstances and have included, among other things: closing courthouses, restricting courthouse access, continuing trials, cancelling non-case related activities, and rescheduling or permitting videoconferencing of oral arguments.
To keep our clients informed, we are providing information from publicly-available sources regarding COVID-19-related restrictions in Georgia and federal courts. The description provided for each court is only exemplary. If you have a matter before a specific court or agency, we recommend that you read the entire linked communication, contact the court, and check the provided link to the court’s website for the most up-to-date information.
- Middle District of Georgia – Standing Order 2020-01, Standing Order 2020-02, Standing Order 2020-03, Standing Order 2020-04 (Probation Virtual Contacts), Public/Media Access to Hearings during the Shelter-in-Place Order, Standing Order 2020-05, Standing Order 2020-06, and Standing Order 2020-07 (amending Orders 2020-01, 2020-02, and 2020-03)Beginning on April 6, 2020, the Clerk’s Offices of the Middle District of Georgia will not be available for in-person filings due to the continued outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Per Standing Order 2020-01, all jury trials have been continued for 60 days from the date of the order. COVID-19 courthouse entry restrictions have been put in place in response to the coronavirus. Standing Order 2020-07 amends Standing Orders 2020-01 and 2020-02, and states that the jury trial moratorium is extended until July 13, 2020. This moratorium includes criminal proceedings, however any defendant shall have the right to file a motion for a speedier trial. All previous standing orders shall remain in effect unless they are inconsistent with Standing Order 2020-07.
To the extent possible with available technology, initial appearances, arraignments and detention hearings will be held remotely pursuant to the applicable rules and as directed by the judge assigned to the case.
Standing Order 2020-03 grants a judge the authority, with the consent of the defendant or a juvenile after the defendant or juvenile confers with counsel, to use video conferencing, or telephonic conferencing if video conferencing is not reasonably available, for a number of items listed in the order. Per Standing Order 2020-07, the provisions of Standing Order 2020-03 shall remain in effect until July 13, 2020.
Per Standing Order 2020-05, all grand jurors who are not excused shall report to the William A. Bootle Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse when summoned. Grand jurors will be divided among four courtrooms and distanced from one another within each courtroom.
- Northern District of Georgia – Notice, Order 20-01, Order 20-02, Entry Restrictions, Rome Courthouse Re-Opening & Restrictions, Time Periods in General Order 20-01 Extended Through May 15, 2020, Order 20-01 (Second Amendment), Order 20-04 (Emergency Authorization of Video Teleconferencing and Telephone Conferencing in Criminal Proceedings), Order 20-05 (Authorization for CJA Panel Attorneys to Submit Interim Vouchers), Order 20-06 (Authorization of Electronic Filing of Sealed Documents in Criminal Proceedings), Temporary Procedures Now Available for Electronic Filing of Sealed Documents by Attorneys in Criminal Matters, General Order 20-07 (Temporary Closure of Rome and Gainesville Clerk’s Office Public Counters), Issuance of Attorney Identification Cards Temporarily Suspended Beginning April 13th, Public Access to Electronic Court Proceedings, Order 2020-01 (Second Amendment), and Opportunity to Comment on Revisions to Local Rules, and Order 2020-01 (Third Amendment) dated May 26Pursuant to the Third Amendment of Order 20-01 dated May 26, the Court continued all jury trials (and trial-specific deadlines) through and including July 3, 2020. Consideration of civil or criminal motions that can be resolved without oral argument is not affected by Order 20-01. Per the Third Amendment to Order 2020-01, while there will be no civil or criminal jury trials in any division of the Northern District of Georgia until after said date, grand jury proceedings may be held beginning June 1, 2020 and summons may be issued prior to July 3, 2020 to prospective jurors for proceedings scheduled to begin after July 3, 2020.
General Order 20-07 temporarily closes the public counters in the Rome and Gainesville divisions until further notice. Members of the public may continue to file documents and make payments in both the Rome and Gainesville divisions by using a drop box provided outside of the clerk’s office in each division and following the posted instructions.
Consistent with General Order 20-03, the federal building located at 600 East First Street, Rome, GA, which houses the Court’s Rome division, has re-opened on March 24, 2020. In addition to the entry restrictions that apply to the entire district due to the COVID-19 pandemic, access to the Rome federal building is further restricted to judges, court staff and employees, those with offices or official responsibilities in the building, and members of the public with official business with the Court or any agency in the building including attorneys, witnesses, and family members required for Court hearings.
The court is denying entry to anyone who has traveled internationally in the past fourteen days, has had close contact with someone who has traveled internationally in the past fourteen days, has been diagnosed with COVID-19, has been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed or has been asked to self-quarantine by any hospital or health agency. Those denied entry may appear by teleconference with approval of the presiding judge.
- Southern District of Georgia – Standing Order 004, Standing Order 005, Standing Order 120-7 (Criminal Hearings and the Signing of Documents), and Standing Order 008 (Supplement to Standing Order 004)Standing Order 005 provides judges in the district authority, with the consent of the defendant or a juvenile after consultation with counsel, to use video conferencing, or telephonic conferencing if video conferencing is not reasonable available, for certain items listed in the order.
Standing Order 004 restricts access to anyone who has been to or been in close contact with anyone who has been to a Level 3 country in the last 14 days; has been on a cruise in the last 14 days; has been diagnosed with, or has had contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19; has been asked to self-quarantine by any hospital or health agency; or is exhibiting cold or flu symptoms.
All persons entering the courthouses will be screened for a fever of 100.0 or higher.
- Georgia – Order, March Oral Arguments Cancelled, Order Declaring Statewide Judicial Emergency, Georgia Supreme Court Suspends Filing Deadlines, Order Temporarily Clarifying/Waiving Superior Court Rules Related to Video, Order Regarding Real Estate Transactions by Video Conference, Order Temporarily Clarifying/Amending Municipal Court Video Conference Rules, Order Temporarily Clarifying/Amending Magistrate Court Video Conference Rules, Order Temporarily Clarifying/Amending Juvenile Court Video Conference Rules, Order Temporarily Clarifying/Amending Probate Court Video Conference Rules, Order Extending Declaration of Statewide Judicial Emergency, Order Temporarily Allowing Remote Notarization and Attestation, Message from the Chief Justice, Order re Provisional Admission to the Practice of Law in Georgia, Guidance on Tolling Statutes of Limitation under the Chief Justice’s Order Declaring Statewide Judicial Emergency, Order re Magistrate Court Rule 46, Order re Emergency Suspension and Deferral of Certain Provisions of the Rules and Regulations of the State Bar of Georgia, Order re Superior Court Rule 49, Draft Video Trial Rule for Public Comment, Notice – Second Extension Order, Second Order Extending Declaration of Statewide Judicial Emergency, Guidance on the Extension of Deadlines and Time Limits Defined by Reference to Terms of Court, Guidance on the Continued Authority of Grand Juries, Further Guidance on Grand Jury Proceedings, Notice – Supreme Court to Restart Its Cases and Reinstate Its Filing Deadlines dated May 20, Rule 11.1 Filings Affected by Judicial Emergency Orders (Effective May 28), New Case Order Sample, Pending Case Order Sample, and Certificate of TimelinessOn March 14, the Supreme Court of Georgia declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency. In addition, the court cancelled March oral argument sessions. The cases scheduled for March oral argument will be added to the April 2020 oral argument calendar. The court asked all attorneys, parties and other visitors to stay away from the court if they have a fever or symptoms of respiratory illness or if they have been exposed to anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 or the flu.
On May 11, 2020, the Supreme Court determined that the Chief Justice’s declaration order of a statewide judicial emergency is further extended until June 12, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. When the order expires, attorneys will have the same amount of time to file their documents that they had remaining at the time the original order went into effect on March 14. In the meantime, attorneys do not need to file an extension of time. While the order is in place, failure to find certain documents that have specific deadlines, such as briefs, cannot be grounds for dismissing a case. However, the Court encourages parties to continue to file briefs and other documents when practicable, as the Court is continuing to work on cases.
Per the Second Order Extending Declaration of the Statewide Judicial Emergency dated May 11, all Georgia courts shall continue to operate under the restrictions set forth in the original Order as extended, with the following clarifications, modifications, and directions.
First, the Order includes several guidance documents that clarify the application of the Order in the following contexts: tolling of filing deadlines; tolling of statutes of limitations; deadlines and time limits defined by reference to terms of court; and the continued authority of grand juries impaneled prior to the issuance of the order. Judges are being granted authority on a case-specific basis to reimpose certain deadlines that would otherwise be tolled by the Order or establish new deadlines or schedules.
Second, until further order, all courts are prohibited from summoning new trial jurors and grand jurors and from conducting criminal or civil jury trials. Grand juries that are already impaneled or are recalled from a previous term of court may meet to attend to time-sensitive essential matters, but these grand juries should not be assembled except when necessary and only under circumstances in which social distancing and other public health guidance can be followed.
Third, all courts should continue to use and increase the use of technology to conduct remote judicial proceedings as a preferred alternative to in-person proceedings. Courts may compel the participation of litigants, lawyers, witnesses, and other essential personnel in remote judicial proceedings, where allowed by court rules. Such proceedings however, must be consistent with public health guidance, must not impose undue burdens on participants, and must not be prohibited by the requirements of the United States or Georgia constitutions or applicable statutes or court rules. In civil, criminal, and juvenile proceedings, parties may expressly consent in the record to remote proceedings not otherwise authorized and affirmatively waive otherwise applicable legal requirements. Courts must ensure the public’s right of access to judicial proceedings and, unless affirmatively waived in the record, a criminal defendant’s rights to confrontation and open courtrooms.
Fourth, except for jury and grand jury proceedings as discussed above, courts have discretion to conduct essential and non-essential in-person judicial proceedings, but only in compliance with public health guidance and with the requirements of the United States and Georgia constitutions and applicable statutes and court rules. Before conducting extensive in-person proceedings, each court should develop written guidelines as to how in-court proceedings generally and particular types of proceedings will be conducted to protect the public health of litigants, lawyers, judges, court personnel, and the public.
Fifth, nothing in the Order as extended and modified limits the authority of the Chief Judge of a superior court judicial circuit to add to the restrictions imposed, if such restrictions are constitutional, necessitated by local conditions, and to the extent possible ensure that courthouses or properly designated alternative facilities remain accessible to carry out essential judicial functions. However, no court may disregard the restrictions imposed by the Order as extended and modified.
Sixth, with the exception of deadlines regarding jury trials and grand juries, judges are granted the following authority to reimpose deadlines set by statutes, rules, regulations, and court orders that have been suspended, tolled, or extended by the Order as extended and modified and to establish new deadlines and schedules. In pending or newly filed cases, a judge may reimpose or establish such deadlines on a case-by-case basis after considering the particular circumstances of the case, including any public health concerns and known individual health, economic, and other concerns regarding the litigants, lawyers, witnesses, and other persons who may be involved in the case. The judge must enter a written order in the record for the case identifying the deadlines that are being reimposed or established. Standing orders applicable to multiple cases and orders simply reimposing previous scheduling orders are not permitted. The judge should allow any party or other participant in a case to seek reconsideration of such an order for good cause shown. Judges should in particular consider reimposing deadlines that do not require any or only insignificant in-person contact, such as deadlines for filing and responding to pleadings, motions, and briefs, written discovery in civil cases, scheduling of dispositions that may be taken remotely or require few participants, and scheduling of hearings requiring only legal argument or few participants.
Furthermore, a Judicial COVID-19 Task Force has been established to assist courts in conducting remote proceedings and in restoring more in-court proceedings. To assist in evaluating the effects of the Order, comments are solicited and should be delivered in Word or PDF format by email to JCTFcomments@gasupreme.us. All lawyers are reminded of their obligations of professionalism and judges are reminded of their obligation to dispose of all judicial matters promptly and efficiently.
Finally, notice will be provided as to the expected termination of the Order as extended and modified at least one week in advance to allow courts to plan for the transition to fuller operations.
Per the Guidance on Grand Jury Proceedings dated May 11, the provision in the Second Order Extending Declaration of Statewide Judicial Emergency authorizes a district attorney, upon his or her own initiative or at the request of the foreperson of an existing jury, to assemble an existing grand jury if the district attorney: (1) determines that it is necessary for the grand jury to consider a matter that is essential to the administrative of justice, the public health and welfare, the continuity of government, or the maintenance of civil order; (2) determines that a delay of such consideration by the grand jury until after the resumption of regular jury proceedings would pose a substantial risk of harm to the public interest; and (3) determines that after consultation with the chief judge of the superior court and the sheriff that the grand jury can be assembled safely and in compliance with all applicable public health guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Georgia Department of Public Health, and the county public health department, including any guidelines for social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment. This provision is intended to be a limited exception to the general stay of all grand jury proceedings, and it is not intended to authorize an assembly of a granny jury to consider routine bills of indictment and other unexceptional matters.
Per the April 9, 2020 Extension Order, any purported requirements under the laws of Georgia that a notarial act performed pursuant to Chapter 17 of Title 45 of the Official Code of Georgia must occur in the physical presence of the notary public is suspended, and may be performed remotely if certain requirements are met.
On behalf of the Supreme Court of Georgia, Chief Justice Harold D. Melton asks that all attorneys, parties, and visitors to the Nathan Deal Judicial Center who have a fever or symptoms of a respiratory illness, or who have been exposed to a person with coronavirus, flu, or any other communicable disease, to reschedule their hearings, tours, or appointments. In addition, the Court asks that all visitors routinely follow the best practices for preventing the spread of infectious disease.
The Council of Superior Court Judges has drafted an amendment to Uniform Superior Court Rule 9.1 that would authorize civil non-jury trials to be conducted by video conference. This rule would remain in effect for 180 days past the expiration of the Chief Justice’s Judicial Emergency Declaration and any extensions or modifications thereto.
Per the Notice dated May 20, the Supreme Court of Georgia will issue orders designed to keep the Court operating to the fullest extent possible during and after the statewide judicial emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on May 21. Most of the deadlines imposed by the Court’s rules pertain to the e-filing of written documents rather than proceedings requiring in-person contact. Effective May 28, parties in pending cases will have the same amount of time to submit their filings as they had remaining at the time the March 14 emergency order went into effect. Parties will be required to submit a “Certificate of Timeliness” with each filing to show the calculation of the new filing deadline. Parties may file a motion for reconsideration or seek extensions of time for good cause related to the pandemic or otherwise. Second, a specific order will be issued in almost all new cases docketed in the Court on or after May 28, 2020, directing that normal deadlines under the Court’s rules will be in effect and will not be subject to tolling or extension under the emergency order, although parties may seek extensions of time for good cause related to the pandemic or otherwise.
Per Rule 11.1, effective May 28, for appeals, petitions for certiorari, applications, motions, disciplinary proceedings, and other proceedings for which any filing deadlines have been suspended by any order declaring a statewide judicial emergency, as extended by subsequent orders, or by a local judicial emergency order entered by the chief judge of a superior court, parties shall, when submitting any filing so affected, attach to the end of such a filing a separate “Certificate of Timeliness.” Such certificate shall not be counted toward the applicable page limitation, and shall state the following: (a) the date the filing was due before the deadline for the filing was suspended (without regard to any non-emergency-related extensions previously granted, and without the application of OCGA §1-3-1(d)(3) where the filing deadline would have fallen on a weekend or legal holiday; (b) the number of days that remained before the date specified in (a), as of suspension of the deadline; and (c) that the filing being submitted is timely because it is being filed within the number of days calculated under (b), counting from the date the suspension is lifted (subject to OCGA §1-3-1(d)(3) if this new filing deadline falls on a weekend or legal holiday). In the event a party’s filing deadline has been affected by any local judicial emergency order entered by the chief judge of a superior court or by any case-specific trial court order, a copy of each such order shall be attached to the party’s Certificate of Timeliness. This rule will expire in 180 days unless extended.