With the potential that a statewide judicial emergency order will expire at the end of the month, jury trials are likely to move back within the Floyd County courthouse from the Forum River Center.
The series of judicial emergency orders were put in place in March 2020 as the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise in Georgia. Earlier this month, soon to retire Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton stated he does not expect the emergency order to extend beyond June 30.
If the order expires, local control then goes back to the chief judges of Georgia’s 49 superior court judicial circuits.
They have statutory authority to issue local orders to suspend certain legal deadlines and designate alternative court facilities.
"The question is what we're going to do when that decision is made," said Floyd County Superior Court Chief Judge John "Jack" Niedrach. "We're still going to take precautions."
At this point, it is likely that jury trials will move back into the Superior Court's four courtrooms on the third floor of the courthouse. The courts will potentially keep jury selection in the smaller, and more isolated, ballroom area of the Forum.
Only working in one isolated area of the large event venue is less of a security issue, Floyd County Manager Jamie McCord said. At that point, the county could reopen the Forum to normal operations.
Some events, like Going Caching and Schnauzerfest, which draw large groups of participants have used the Forum as their base. Both events are scheduled to for October, and McCord said contingent on the emergency order expiration, the facility could then be reopened for use.
"We're as ready as they are," McCord said.
Back at the courthouse, Judge Niedrach said they'll likely stagger hearings which generally bring larger amounts of people into the courtroom.
Talking specifically about calendar calls, which bring 30-60 people all together in one room at the courthouse, he said they're expecting to call smaller amounts of people for staggered, separate hearings.
The court will continue to utilize video hearings, especially for people at the jail -- a practice adopted during the pandemic. Overall, attorneys have been cooperative during the process, Niedrach said.
"We've got to be flexible," he said. "If we need to tighten up and be more restrictive we will."