COVINGTON — Grand jury proceedings in Newton County resumed Wednesday, Oct. 14, after a seven-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to acting District Attorney Randy McGinley, 100 Newton County residents were summoned to appear for grand jury duty Wednesday to begin tackling a backlog of 200 cases.
McGinley said he met with Chief Superior Court Judge John Ott, Clerk of Courts Linda Hays and Sheriff’s Office personnel at the courthouse to ensure that grand jury proceedings can effectively resume. He also said that the safety of jurors entering the courthouse is paramount.
“Anyone entering the courthouse will have to pass the same health screening that the courthouse has had in place for months,” McGinley said in a released statement. “Please bring and wear a mask.”
Social distancing guidelines are enforced in the courthouse, including in the rooms where the jurors meet. Witnesses, the District Attorney’s Office personnel, and any other courthouse personnel will also wear a mask during grand jury. The only exception will be for witnesses while they are testifying. Witnesses will be kept well beyond any social distancing guidelines and/or be wearing face shields so that jurors can see their demeanor and facial expressions while they testify. Additionally, all witnesses will be coming to the courthouse on staggered schedules to make sure the number of people in the building is limited.
“I want to thank Mrs. Hays and the entire Clerk’s Office as well as all of the Sheriff’s Office Court Services Unit for their hard work and diligence during this unique time,” said McGinley.
Grand jury proceedings were suspended March 14 following the issuance of a judicial emergency order by the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.
“The chief justice’s order made it clear that we could only hold grand jury for ‘essential’ matters,” said McGinley. “Because the order also tolled, or delayed, certain deadlines, such as the statute of limitations, there were no ‘essential’ matters to be heard by a grand jury.”
The Judicial Emergency was extended for the sixth time on Sept. 10. This sixth order gave the chief judge in each judicial circuit the ability to restart grand jury after consultation with the district attorney. This order also included guidance for grand juries that mandated health and safety guidelines be followed to ensure the safety of the jurors, law enforcement, and courthouse personnel.
McGinley said after he and Judge Ott discussed the backlog of cases in Newton as well as the procedures necessary to hold grand jury, Ott signed an order instructing the clerk of Superior Court to summon 100 residents for grand jury duty.