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DA: First grand jury since COVID had ‘no glitches,’ still have more than 300 cases to go

With more than 300 cases to be presented to the grand jury, Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said the first grand jury session this week since the COVID-19 outbreak went smoothly and with “no glitches.”  

Darragh’s office presented 29 cases this week to the grand jury. According to court documents, the cases primarily involved counts of theft, burglary, drug offenses and weapons charges. 

Darragh said there are still 321 cases ready to go for grand jury, and he said he expects to present 150 cases total to the grand jury before the end of the year.  

The grand jury this week met in a Hall County courtroom, but the cases will soon be heard at the Gainesville Municipal Court.  

“We think that will go as smoothly, but it will be different,” Darragh said. 

Hall County Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin signed an order in October designating the Municipal Court as an alternate court facility. The COVID-19 jury committee made the decision to move Hall County grand jury sessions to the Municipal Court. 

“We wanted the courthouse as clear as it could be without having grand jury run into other trials, which is not a problem without COVID-19,” Darragh said, adding the Municipal Court was not available on the first day they started the grand jury. “We thought that to continue the separation was a good idea.” 

The Gainesville Municipal Court closed on March 14 and reopened July 22, now meeting twice each week. 

Municipal Court cases have been handled in person only, though negotiations with the solicitor have been handled over the phone or virtually, city spokeswoman Christina Santee said. 

Before COVID-19, the Municipal Court would bring 100 to 150 people to court with no staggered times. That’s now been reduced to 90 people at half-hour staggered intervals. 

“We roughly schedule about 20 cases per 30 minutes while juggling inmates and attorney cases into this number,” Santee said. 

The Hall County court system has asked for $600,000 in technology and equipment to try to catch up with the backlog of cases due to the pandemic.