AUGUSTA, Ga. – The pandemic has resulted in unprecedented changes in the judicial systems of the two-state region as most personal trials, such as court cases, remain on hold. This has worried some lawyers and judges.
On Sunday, Georgia Chief Justice Harold D. Melton extended the statewide judicial emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic for another month.
Under state law, the Chief Justice has the right to declare an emergency for 30 days at a time, and the Sunday order is almost identical to the last Extension Order he signed on Jan. 8.
It continues to suspend legal proceedings but signals that they could resume next month, noting that “the surge in COVID-19 cases that led to the stay of legal proceedings now appears to be on the decline.
Assuming conditions generally continue to improve, it is expected that the next extension decision on March 9, at their discretion, will empower higher-level and state courts to resume legal proceedings if local conditions permit, ”it said Decision.
“We have never closed the courts since this emergency began,” Melton said. “However, because we are forcing people to go to court and because of the large number of people involved in legal proceedings, we have suspended legal proceedings and most of the grand jury proceedings early. Since then, our courts across the state have worked hard to prepare plans for her readmission in accordance with the guidelines and guidelines of the COVID-19 Public Health Task Force to ensure the health and safety of all concerned. “
Augusta-based judge Wade Padgett testified before Georgian lawmakers last month that it could take up to three years for the state to clear the backlog of late legal proceedings over the coronavirus pandemic. If you get out of the arrears the court system will be busy and Padgett was there with Melton asking the legislature for more money.
In South Carolina
South Carolina trials are also on hold by order of the state’s Supreme Court.
However, the ongoing delay has left some attorneys concerned about what this will mean for their clients who crave justice and closure.
“They are forced to live with what causes them all sorts of worries and stress,” said attorney Mark Bringardner. “They don’t know what the outcome will be and they don’t even know when there will be an outcome.”
The pandemic has left many people in the balance within the state judicial system, and Bringardner is concerned that it has given some an advantage.
“COVID-19 pandemic court closings have provided assistance to certain parties who have incentives not to resolve their cases for one reason or another. You are more than happy to use the COVID excuse not to actively participate in a case. “Bringardner said. “If a party is unwilling to comply and has no deadline to comply, it can serve its interests if that is its goal.”
Others fear the suspension has left the court system behind.
“There was already an enormous backlog in the docket. I think it just hasn’t been made public, “said Allie Menegakis, advocate of criminal reform. “Before COVID, the average waiting time for a lawsuit was more than two years, and sometimes it took more than a month to re-examine a loan application or to put something on the file.”
Menegakis is the founder of SC4CJR, a non-profit organization committed to holistic reform of the criminal justice system. She said the pandemic exposed some of the critical shortcomings that already existed in the South Carolina courts.
“We have no time limit here, so the state does not have to bring a case to court within a certain period of time,” said Menegakis. “I think this really has an impact on the human dignity of the accused … and that affects everyone involved, including family members and the alleged victims in these cases.”
Now all they can do is wait for the South Carolina Supreme Court to overturn their order.
The latest version of the order was published by the state chief justice in January.
“I note that since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has required unprecedented changes to normal legal processes across the state. These changes have affected not only judges, attorneys and court officials, but also those who use the courts, ”said Donald Beatty, Chief Justice of the SC.
“With the continued rise in COVID-19 cases across South Carolina and the expectation from the medical community and experts that the number of positive cases will continue to increase in the near future, it is still wise to do this again and make changes on how the Circuit, Family, Probate, and Master-in-Equity courts work to protect those who work within the courts as well as those who use the courts, “Beatty said. “Based on the foregoing, all national personal trials commencing on or after January 11, 2021 will be suspended pending further orders from the Chief Justice.”
The suspension does not mean that the courts are closed.
Some use virtual technology to still do business, and there are exceptions to suspension for things like bond hearings and other emergencies.
From reports by WRDW / WAGT and WCSC