COVID-19 outbreak hits Hall County courts


The courthouse closed its law library for one day on December 31 due to staff absences related to COVID-19.

The high number of cases in the courthouse comes as the Northeast Georgia Health System reported 341 COVID-positive patients at its hospitals on Monday, Jan. 17, including 203 at Gainesville Hospital.

Monday’s COVID-positive patient count surpassed September’s last peak of 333 COVID-positive patients and is close to the NGHS’s highest count of 355 COVID-positive patients in January 2021.

The number fell slightly to 330 COVID-positive patients on Tuesday January 18.

The Times left messages for the juvenile court and various prosecutors in the courtroom for comment.

Northeast Judicial Circuit Public Defender Brad Morris said his office has also endured employees falling ill, though it’s unclear whether this was related to COVID or another illness.

The combination of COVID, a staff shortage and other training requirements “makes it harder,” Morris said.

“Luckily our office has a good amount of space,” Morris said “…It’s not like the clerk’s office where there are a lot of people next to each other.”

Lawyers have offices so they can talk to clients privately, and there’s also a lot less foot traffic compared to the courthouse.

In 2020, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued an order banning jury trials and grand juries.

Since then, Stephenson said the High Court’s guidance had led to a more “focused and moderate” response.

The Georgia Supreme Court order still encourages virtual proceedings but gives local courts discretion to proceed with in-person proceedings.

There are no plans to close any of the Hall’s courtrooms for virtual proceedings.

Among judges, Stephenson said there was a preference to do so in person because of the “solemnity” of the proceedings, particularly in criminal cases.

In civil and state cases — especially for motion hearings — it’s been easier to convert to Zoom hearings, Stephenson said.

Superior Court Chief Justice Kathlene Gosselin extended an order through the end of February that maintains social distancing and mask-wearing rules.

“The judges don’t want to put the public in a dangerous situation,” Morris said.

One judicial circuit employee policy that Stephenson said “has been as helpful as anything” is a mandatory quarantine based on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our quarantine period for (COVID) exposure has gone from 10 days to 5 days with masks mandatory for an additional five days,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson said “every office had to deal with the challenges” of the quarantine order, which led to short-term disruption.


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