When court dates get moved, hundreds of letters must be sent out to inform defendants of their new times to appear before a judge during the ongoing judicial emergency order.
The statewide judicial emergency order, which would have expired at 11:59 p.m. April 13, was extended to May 13 following an order by Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton.
Brandi Paul, who supervises the traffic violations bureau in the Hall County clerk’s office, said letters were sent out for previous court dates and arraignments that have been postponed.
“We have arraignment coming up the 15th and the 16th, which we have not sent letters yet out for because we don’t have a (continuance) date yet. … Once we have that date, then we will send out letters continuing those as well,” she said.
Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard said her office is primarily hearing from clients with legal representation, as she said she believes not many citizens know they can call to discuss their cases.
“We do have to speak to them. It is something that can’t necessarily be done all by email only, because we have to establish identity,” Woodard said.
People wishing to do so can call the main number, 770-531-7012, or email email@example.com.
Woodard’s staff has taken files home and have worked remotely through virtual private networks.
Without giving too many specifics to compromise her system, Woodard said they are asking for “rotating random identifying information” that the person involved would know.
“It’s not uncommon for somebody to give a false name when they are stopped by police, or they may actually have somebody else’s identity, so their driver’s license number and date of birth are on there. We try to find other pieces of information that we can use to establish (identity),” she said, mentioning prior criminal history or information related to family members that can be discovered through the tax digest.
Video conferencing is the easiest way, as the prosecutor can compare the person speaking with them to the driver’s license photo.
Examples of reasons why people might reach out to discuss their case would be the potential of a nolo contendere, or no contest, plea or getting a reduction on a speeding ticket.
“Pre-COVID-19, there were a lot of times somebody’s wife, mom, girlfriend, or parents would want to call and negotiate the ticket for the person, and we’ve always had to say this is a legal matter and we have to deal with the person whose license is affected by it,” Woodard said.
There is no requirement to come forward earlier, but Woodard said she wanted to make her staff available for people to take care of their court matters.
“With regard to matters not deemed essential functions under the statewide judicial emergency order, courts and litigants are encouraged to proceed to the extent feasible and consistent with public health guidance, for example through the use of teleconferences and videoconferences, to reduce backlogs when the judicial emergency ends,” according to Melton’s order.
Northeastern Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Kathlene Gosselin extended the judicial emergency for Hall and Dawson counties.
No jurors or grand jurors shall report, and no jury trials will be held until after May 31.
“Furthermore, no civil or non-essential matters shall be heard by the courts during the month of April 2020, unless they can be conducted via video or teleconferencing.
Essential matters include:
Matters “where an immediate liberty or safety concern is present requiring the attention of the court as soon as the court is available
Criminal court search warrants, arrest warrants, initial appearances and bond reviews
Domestic abuse temporary protective orders and restraining orders
Juvenile Court delinquency detention hearings and emergency removal matters
Mental health commitment hearings