A proposed resumption of jury trials in Floyd County Superior Court has been pushed off a month, with the new target date of January 2021.
“The judges of the Floyd County Superior Court have determined to postpone the resumption of jury trials until after the first of the year,” Floyd County Superior Court Judge John “Jack” Niedrach said.
“While the judges are anxious to resume jury trials to address the continuing backlog of cases, the safety and security of court personnel, parties, attorneys, and, especially, jurors is of utmost importance,” he said. “In light of the spike of COVID-19 cases and the concern expressed by participants in the court system, no jury trials will be conducted in December.”
Jury proceedings have been halted since March under an emergency order issued by Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton as a result of the pandemic. He signed an order on Oct. 10 lifting that suspension and allowing court systems to begin formulating their plans for moving forward.
During that time courts have still met to move forward with essential functions, like bond hearings primarily using video conferencing. Even with the reduced functions, the virus found its way into the courthouse causing a two week shut down in June.
For the last five months, a statewide task force made up of judges and lawyers appointed by Melton has been developing guidelines for the safe reopening of in-person court proceedings.
Topics in the guidelines include the use of masks, the reconfiguring of courtrooms and chairs, installation of plexiglass barriers, and the use of markers to ensure social distancing.
Locally, Judge Niedrach has been appointed to head up a committee comprised of lawyers, administrators and representatives from the public health department to come up with the plan to safely resume jury trials in the Rome circuit.
That committee is comprised of representatives from the law community, public health, sheriff’s office and the county government.
The committee began meeting in October and put together a tentative plan to reopen. That plan covers, among other things, how to comply with social distancing recommendations prior to and during a trial as well as where jurors will deliberate after a trial.
They have also been working on how to allow public access to trials and court proceedings, which may include remote access.
Courtroom A was deemed large enough to accommodate a socially distanced jury and court staff, he said, but the other three courtrooms may not. Judges will have limited use of the Forum River Center, which was annexed to be used as a part of the courthouse.
The resumption of grand jury proceedings, which have also been on hiatus since March, began on Nov. 13 using space at the Forum.