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On Saturday, March 14, Chief Justice Harold D. Melton of the Georgia Supreme Court declared a statewide judicial emergency for the next 30 days. Chief Justice Melton’s order noted that “nature of this emergency is the continued transmission of Coronavirus/COVID-19 throughout the State and the potential infection of those who work in or are required to appear in our courts.” The order further states that “courts should remain open to address essential functions, and in particular courts should give priority to matters necessary to protect health, safety, and liberty of individuals.”
The judges of Oconee County and Athens-Clarke County along with representatives from the Western Circuit District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices, Athens-Clarke County Solicitor, Oconee County and Athens-Clarke County Clerk of Courts, and Oconee County and Athens-Clarke Sheriff’s offices met to discuss the local judiciary’s response to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 and to determine what non-essential court functions can be cancelled, postponed or otherwise rescheduled.
“All of our judges and justice partners are committed making access to justice a priority in our community,” said Chief Judge of the Superior Courts of the Western Circuit Patrick Haggard. “However, in light of the public health emergency, we support our public health officials by doing our part to curtail some court activities in order minimize large gatherings and to promote social distancing.”
In order to help minimize exposure and contacts, the courts in Oconee County and the Western Judicial Circuit will scale back court-related operations through April 13.
Effective Monday, March 16:
• Juries and jury trials are cancelled.
• Grand Jury is cancelled.
• All matters not involving incarcerated individuals will be rescheduled or continued.
• Release hearings for incarcerated individuals will be expedited.
• Parties may request that non-essential matters be conducted via video or teleconferencing.
• Criminal court search warrants, arrest warrants, initial appearances, and bond reviews will continue as needed.
• Domestic abuse temporary protective orders and restraining orders will continue as needed.
• To contact the Superior Court, call 706-769-3940.
Clerk of Court for Superior, Magistrate & Juvenile Courts
• Offices will remain open, but staffing may be limited. Online service is available for a number of items.
• Real estate deeds, liens or plats may be filed online through https://efile.gsccca.org.
• Real estate records may be viewed and printed at www.gsccca.org.
• Civil cases can be e-filed through PeachCourt at https://PeachCourt.com.
• To contact the Clerk of Court for Superior, Magistrate and Juvenile Court, call 706-769-3940.
• Hearings involving incarcerated individuals at the Oconee County Jail will be held as scheduled or rescheduled within a short time.
• All other criminal hearing and all civil hearing will be rescheduled to a hearing date after April 13.
• Judges will continue to issue search warrants, arrest warrants, and hold hearings for release of inmates on bail as soon as possible.
• To contact the Magistrate Court, call the Clerk at 706-769-3940.
• All hearings and trials except those involving liberty or safety concerns will be postponed for at least the next 30 days.
• Arraignments (Criminal, Traffic and Ordinance) from March 16 - April 13 will be cancelled.
• Bench Trials set for Wednesday, March 25, 2020 are rescheduled to Wednesday, May 13, 2020 at 9:00 a.m.
• Arraignments set for Thursday, March 26, 2020 are rescheduled to Thursday, May 21, 2020 at 9:00 a.m.
• Mental health commitment hearings will continue as needed.
• To contact the Probate Court, call 706-769-3936.
• Some dependency hearings are cancelled, but not trials with specific time limits. Contact the court with questions about specific cases.
• Children will not be transported unless specifically ordered.
• No children will be admitted to a Regional Youth Detention Center without judicial approval.
• Delinquency matters may be continued with consent of all parties.
• Appearances for dependency adjudications and dispositions will be waived if consented to by all parties.
• Foster parents, Court Appointed Special Advocates and Guardians Ad Litem may file written reports and be excused from attendance.
• To contact the Juvenile Court, call 706-769-3940. To contact the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), call 706-769-5043. To contact Department of Family & Children Services (DFCS), call 706-227-7021
• For parties seeking to get married at the Courthouse by a judge, the parties must contact the appropriate court. The number of attendees may be limited or the location moved to accommodate appropriate distance.
The courts will otherwise continue to operate, and all clerk offices will remain open unless county buildings are closed. All emergency and time-sensitive matters will continue, such as requests for temporary protective orders. Parties are encouraged to contact the individual court to check on the status of their cases and to request a rescheduling. Note that many staff may be out to care for family members and children, so please be patient if phone lines are busy. Court and clerk staff will attempt to contact parties and return calls as quickly as possible.
Individuals who are sick or displaying symptoms are encouraged not to come to the Courthouse. Such individuals should contact the court for further guidance.
In the event that the public health emergency continues, the Chief Judge of the Superior Court and/or Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court may issue further directives to restrict, postpone or cancel court activities.
If you are represented by an attorney, contact your attorney for information. If you are represented by the Public Defender’s Office, contact their office at 706-369-6440 or via Facebook @WesternPD.
For additional information please visit the Oconee County website at https://www.oconeecounty.com.