Hall County commissioners approved a plan to apply for $2 million in federal funding to address a current backlog of cases in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit caused by COVID-19 in 2020.
Gov. Brian Kemp last year awarded up to $110 million across Georgia to rectify court case backlogs imposed by the pandemic, according to Court Administrator Jason Stephenson, who said this vital second round of funding could lighten the overloaded court dockets in Hall County if it’s received.
“What’s in front of the commissioners this week is our new application for 2023, and will extend and renew what we’ve requested currently in this year and add a few additional items to it, so that it’s $2 million requested in 2023,” Stephenson said.
“This $2 million is specifically to pay for additional positions of people to handle the backlog,” he said.
Those positions include human resources employees for the courts to expedite backlogged cases. He said a large portion of the funds would go toward higher bailiff pay, interpreter costs, court transcripts and bringing on additional jurors.
With a mounting pile of backlogs, a top priority will be to bring more serious cases involving violent felony charges to trial.
“These ARPA funds have been enormously helpful in tackling those challenges this year,” Stephenson said. “The courts never shut down, but we were not able to conduct jury trials because the Georgia Supreme Court had suspended jury trials. For the criminal justice system in particular, that just meant the charges brought against defendants were never resolved.”
“During 2020, there were very few cases that were tried or resolved, so what we have now is a backlog of 700-800 cases, pending, higher than what would ordinarily see pre-pandemic,” he said. “It’s all stemming from that suspension of jury trials in 2020.”
NEJC received nearly $1.7 million in 2022. Stephenson said that money has gone a long way to resolve this issue this year.
“We closed a record number of cases in 2021, and we’re on pace to exceed that in 2022, in part, thankfully, to additional ARPA funds,” Stephenson said.