Fulton County’s justice system, which has been limited for the past 11 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, could get a shot in the arm next month.
“We’re targeting a March (15) date for resuming jury trials,” said Anna Roach, Fulton’s COO.
Roach and other officials spoke on reopening some county departments and services at the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ Feb. 17 recess meeting, which was held online due to the pandemic.
Jury trials have been on hold since last March, when the pandemic hit Georgia, because of concerns over packing large groups of potential jurors and others into courtrooms, a situation that may not allow for social distancing. But Roach said Fulton has prepared Assembly Hall, which completed a renovation project in December and is not in use due to board meetings being held remotely, to be used for jury trials.
“We are still working out a lot of the details for that,” she said. “That will be very important to the backlog that has developed with the courts.”
On Feb. 7, Harold Melton, the Georgia Supreme Court’s chief justice, issued another monthly executive order authorizing the state’s counties to resume their State and Superior Court jury trials “in their discretion” and “as conditions allow.” The order was extended until March 9 and also calls on counties to use technology, whenever possible, to conduct some proceedings. In his latest order, Melton did say he's encouraged by the state's recent drop in coronavirus cases.
Later in the meeting, Glenn Menendez, Fulton’s CIO, said some other county court systems, such as its DUI and drug ones, are running smoothly online.
“Virtual court is thriving,” he said.
Like the justice system, Fulton Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand’s office has also had pandemic-related problems, mostly limiting its service to an online format and closing all five locations for most of the past year.
Its locations in downtown Atlanta and at Greenbriar Mall in south Fulton, which have been shuttered since July 27, are expected to reopen March 1 and 15, respectively, said Ellis Kirby, the county’s deputy COO for infrastructure.
“We are working with other departments to help make sure we’re ready for these openings. … Permanent shields are being installed at all five locations,” Kirby said, adding he hopes the office’s other three locations will open by the end of March.
District 6 Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman said she’s received complaints from residents who said they’ve had to wait in long lines at both the downtown and South Fulton Service Center/Annex locations, which have had a self-service kiosk and limited service, respectively, during the pandemic.
“Over the weekend, I had three different community leaders send me screen shots of seniors and (disabled residents) being in line (downtown) outside when we have Assembly Hall (available) upstairs,” she said.
Abdur-Rahman added that when she goes to the service center, “everything flows perfectly."
However, “The days I’m not here, it doesn’t. … It’s unacceptable for this to happen. … For me to need to be here at the South Fulton Annex for things to be done correctly is unacceptable,” she said.
In response, Roach said, “I regret to hear that you have the impression we’re not doing something when you’re not in the building. We did make arrangements for the line management ability to be a permanent resource for the tax commissioners’ office.”