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Hall trials canceled — again — due to rising COVID-19 hospitalizations
A courtroom in Hall County Superior Court, pictured in September 2020. - photo by Scott Rogers

Hall County court officials decided Wednesday, Dec. 9, to cancel January trial weeks as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations continues to climb.

Court administrator Jason Stephenson said the Superior Court judges agreed Wednesday to cancel the first two weeks of January trials, which were set for Jan. 4 and Jan. 11.

Stephenson said the decision came after “the number of new cases being reported, rising hospitalizations, and out of a concern that the holidays could accelerate those trends.”

Northeast Georgia Health System reported a new record Wednesday of 217 confirmed COVID-19-positive patients being treated across its facilities, with another 58 patients awaiting test results. According to the data, 128 of those patients are at the Gainesville hospital.

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This is the second cancellation of jury trials in two weeks for the Hall courthouse. Court officials canceled the Nov. 30 jury trial week on Nov. 25.

There have been no jury trials since the judicial emergency orders announced in March.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton signed the ninth order Wednesday, Dec. 9, extending the statewide judicial emergency until 11:59 p.m. Jan. 8.

“Recent public health reports indicate that COVID-19 conditions are worsening dramatically in many parts of the state,” Melton wrote. “While this order does not impose a blanket shutdown of non-essential in-person court proceedings, courts should remain vigilant of changing COVID-19 conditions and be prepared to suspend jury trials as necessary and to reconsider grand jury proceedings as well.”

Stephenson said one trial week is scheduled to start Jan. 19, and the decision will be made in a few weeks on whether it will go forward.

Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said his office expects a heavy schedule once jury trials can resume.

“The problem is that we don’t know when that’s going to be feasible, and we’ll just have to take it from week to week, month to month, until we get to more normalcy than we’ve had,” he said.

Grand jury sessions, however, have continued with the plan to meet weekly. Darragh said they will meet once more next week and then resume in January.

Stephenson said last month they have closed out roughly 1,400 fewer Superior Court cases compared to this time last year.

Court officials asked the Hall County board of commissioners this week to allow them to use the North Hall Community Center for State Court trials and said it could help reduce the backlog.