Not Sufficient Courtrooms: This Georgia Superior Court docket is bursting on the seams

Seven judges. Five courtrooms. And one challenge too much.

Lawyers who have gone on trial before the Supreme Court of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit at the Columbus Government Center in western Georgia should pull together and pack their patience with their pleadings.

“All of the higher courtrooms are at the top of the building, at the top of an antiquated, obsolete elevator shaft with equally antiquated, obsolete elevator cars,” said Gil McBride, chief judge of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit Superior Court and get them down, causing a lot of delays. “

Litigation attorneys hearing cases in Columbus Superior Court have also noted that Judge Maureen Gottfried, the only woman on the bench with seven lawyers, operates from a former public television studio.

Columbus Superior Court Judge Maureen C. Gottfried, Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit. (Courtesy photo)

“It’s not quite as bad as it sounds,” said Gottfried. “I actually have what we call a listening room. It is equipped with a converted bench, with a witness stand and a place for a clerk. “

Some colleagues have fewer, the chief judge stated.

“[Gottfried] does not have its own courtroom. Judge Ben Land doesn’t even have a hearing room, let alone a courtroom of its own, ”said McBride. “With some of the stimulus spending going to the state and communities, we hope some of that can be used to reorganize the premises at the Columbus Government Center more efficiently, which would result in two new courtrooms for the judges currently lacking . “

Overcrowded in Columbus

McBride expected expansion within the next two to three years, pending approval of expenses and allocations. In the meantime, lawyers shouldn’t expect to hear criminal cases in Gottfried’s assigned hearing room, especially since the circuit addresses a backlog caused by a pandemic.

Not Sufficient Courtrooms: This Georgia Superior Court docket is bursting on the seams Chief Judge Gil McBride, Superior Court of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit of Georgia. (Courtesy photo)

“The bottom line is it’s too small,” said McBride. “During the pandemic with the need to distance oneself socially and maintain certain distance ranges between viewers, it just didn’t do much good.”

Instead, McBride said the court had worked on the backlog by resuming in-person jury trials, giving priority to criminal proceedings in courtrooms that have been modified with enhanced security measures.

Lawyers could now count on plenty of Plexiglas and socially distant jurors in the space previously reserved for the gallery.

“We set up streaming between the courtrooms and the viewing rooms so we could maintain public access,” said McBride. “The council tables are turned at an angle so they can look to the right and see the judge. Those are the big changes. “

But they may not be the biggest change imposed by the pandemic that lawyers will notice.

Masks and scheduling

“Our approach is that people speaking at a safe distance from others are not masked,” said McBride. “You can’t really hear what people are saying when they’re wearing masks, even with microphones. There’s a lot of cushioning. So when you sit on a witness stand surrounded by plexiglass 6 meters from others, there is no clinical reason for you to wear a mask. We were told that. “

The judge said the “maskless” provision extended to lawyers who go to court or question witnesses.

It’s just one example of how the pandemic has made operations “a little bit more complicated”. Gottfried said COVID-19 has also paused plans to include a special-purpose local option sales tax “to build a new courthouse” on the ballot.

“Before COVID-19, planning a courtroom when needed was a chore, but all the judges and staff worked hard to make it work,” she said. “[Now] We have someone from the sheriff’s office who is responsible for planning and fitting all the pieces of the puzzle together. “