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How the Forsyth County Courthouse is operating without jury trials
Forsyth County Courthouse
People file back into the Forsyth County Courthouse after it was evacuated due to a fire alarm when a man used an electronic vape cigarette in a bathroom. - photo by Forsyth County News

Courts in Forsyth County have not held a jury trial since the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will be at least a few more months before they can resume.

On Wednesday, Dec. 23, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton issued an order declaring a statewide judicial emergency requiring “all jury trials not already in progress, including in-person proceedings to select jurors, are prohibited; this suspension of in-person jury trial proceedings is anticipated to continue until at least February.”

Forsyth County Clerk of Courts Greg Allen said local judges have not held jury trials since the outbreak began.

“We haven’t had any jury trials since last March, so we’re obviously way behind and stacked up due to the COVID crisis, so basically, a lot of people are waiting on their trial and a lot of victims are waiting to see what happens with trials,” Allen said. 

Allen said while juried cases are on hold, the court has been able to move ahead with some legal processes, such as convening grand juries in November and December and holding non-jury hearings. 

“The judges have been doing a great job with their non-jury calendars, a lot of civil [proceedings have] been online, doing criminal in the courtroom with everyone spaced appropriately, of course, you can’t have as much public in, but when it’s needed, we can put it online if they need to watch it,” he said.

With the unknowns of the pandemic, Allen said he wasn’t sure when jury trials might resume but expected it to be a busy time for the courts once they started back.

“I suspect we’ll be having a lot of jury trials for the next two years to try to catch up,” Allen said. “One issue is we have three superior court judges and two state court judges that have jury trials. We’ve got it set up now where we can actually conduct a jury trial. We’ve kind of rearranged the jury assembly room to arrange for spacing.”

Allen said the jury assembly room has been converted to a court use for now since its larger space allows for more spacing and the installation of plexiglass, but it will only be able to handle one jury case at a time instead of several happening at once.

“That’s not going to happen with just one courtroom available,” he said, “so we’ll still be backed up and try to get those trails done one at a time instead of trying to run two to five jury trials at a time,”