For The Record

Georgia Chief justice says state’s courts could struggle with backlogs for years

By: - February 8, 2022 7:58 pm

On Tuesday, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice David Nahmias delivered his first State of the Judiciary Address. Nahmias discussed the judicial system’s challenges during the pandemic that has resulted in a large backlog of cases. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice David Nahmias delivered his first State of the Judiciary Address Tuesday detailing how a pandemic continues to plague the judicial system across the state.

During Nahmias’s speech to the state Legislature on Tuesday, he spoke of the difficulties courts face with limited resources, operating courts safely, and the backlog of cases. But he also praised the resilience of attorneys, judges, and other court personnel as they continue to use technology and try to find ways to safely operate the judicial system.

Nahmias was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2009 by Gov. Sonny Perdue and last year was elected as chief justice by his peers to replace Harold Melton, who stepped down last July before joining the Troutman Pepper law firm. 

“A wave of COVID cases comes and knocks us a step back,” Nahmias said. “What we still call COVID-19 has now been with us in 2020, 2021, and into 2022. Yet through it all, Georgia’s judges, lawyers, and other participants in our justice system have demonstrated remarkable perseverance, creativity, and resolve to keep our courts operating, even in areas with very limited resources and facilities.”

Nahmias said it would take several years and fewer surges of COVID-19 to tackle problems like in the six-county Southwestern Circuit where 377 open felony cases in 2019 have jumped to more than 900.

“So even when not halted entirely, our judicial system’s capacity to conduct jury trials, and other proceedings that need to be done in-person, is significantly lower because of COVID,” he said. 

“This has led to significant backlogs, particularly of the serious criminal cases that are the most likely to go to trial and to have long and complicated trials, including many gang-related and other trials with multiple defendants.”

Following the expiration of the statewide emergency judicial order last July, the guidance on how courts should operate during the public health crisis became more tailored locally, Nahmias said.

This approach helped mitigate a COVID-19 outbreak in the Ware County Magistrate Court that instead of closing courts for 30 days, judges instead allowed for hearings to be held in certain circumstances and court documents to be deposited into a drop box.

Nahmias said the transition to more virtual hearings will be a long-term beneficial change that shifted at a much quicker pace because of the pandemic.

Nahmias commended Gov. Brian Kemp for allocating $110 million in federal grants to supplement court budgets, and for state lawmakers unveiling legislation this year that would provide more resources for mental health and substance abuse services.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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