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The Athens-Clarke County Courthouse shines in the morning light on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Gabriella Audi, www.gabbyaudi10.wixsite.com/mysite-1)

Chief Justice Harold Melton extended the judicial emergency order in Georgia for another month on Feb. 7. Since March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began to escalate in the United States, the order has been signed 11 times, according to a press release from the Supreme Court of Georgia.

This order suspends jury trials and is “nearly identical to the last extension order” signed on Jan. 8, according to the release. Under state law, the Chief Justice can declare an emergency for 30 days at a time.

“We have never shut down the courts since this emergency began,” Melton said in the release. “However, because we compel people to come to court, and due to the large numbers of people required for jury trials, early on we suspended jury trials and most grand jury proceedings. Since then, our courts across the state have been hard at work putting in place plans for their resumption in compliance with public health guidance and guidelines by the Judicial COVID-19 Task Force to safeguard the health and safety of all involved.”

According to the release, if conditions continue to improve in the state, the next extension order in March is expected to authorize superior and state courts to resume jury trials “as local conditions allow.”

While they were suspended on March 14, 2020, jury trials were allowed to resume in October. In December, a “rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases” again suspended jury trials that were not already in progress, according to the release.

While jury trials were suspended, courts in Georgia have still performed “essential functions,” according to the order.

“Courts have also greatly expanded the use of remote proceedings and have resumed limited in-person proceedings that can be conducted safely,” the order reads.

The order urges courts to use technology “when practicable and lawful” to conduct judicial proceedings remotely. When in-person proceedings are necessary, courts are instructed to follow public health guidelines.