Masks again required in Towns and Union Courthouses

mask requirement courthouses

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Enotah Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Raymond George issued a mask requirement for all visiting the courthouses in Union, Towns, White, and Lumpkin Counties.

The mandate will be in place at least until the Delta Variant wave of COVID-19 abates in the area. The order begins on Monday, August 23, 2021.

All who enter the courthouses will be required to wear backs and have their temperature checked.

In the last two weeks, the Department of Public Health has reported 72 cases in Towns, 146 cases in Union, 253 cases in Lumpkin, and 266 in White. Each county is listed as a high transmission area.

Local hospitals continue to report that their hospitals and ICUs are filled with COVID-19 patients.

Last week, Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order preventing local governments from imposing COVID-19 restrictions on businesses. However, school districts have the power to determine what measures work best for them.

Towns Elementary and Union Primary had to close their buildings for a week after experiencing significant spread throughout the staff and some students.

Anyone experiencing a COVID-19 related system, such as fever, cough, fatigue, should consider being tested for the virus. The Pfizer vaccine received full FDA approval for 16 and older on Monday, August 23. The vaccine is not yet approved for children younger than 12 even for emergency use.

Currently, Towns and Union County have higher vaccination rates than Lumpkin and White. 50 percent of Towns County has received at least one dose of the vaccine with 46 percent fully vaccinated. Union County is 42 percent fully vaccinated.

White and Lumpkin are 31 and 30 percent fully vaccinated.

Some breakthrough cases have occurred with the vaccine, but most of those patients are reporting less severe symptoms and not requiring hospitalization. Around 90 percent of hospitalized cases are individuals who weren’t vaccinated.

The health department, CVS, and Ingles are all offering COVID-19 vaccines. At some locations, an appointment isn’t necessary to get the vaccine.

Jail populations under evaluation for potential release

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jail population

BLUE RIDGE, GA – With a judicial emergency in place across the state, Georgia district attorneys and offices are evaluating jail populations to determine who can and cannot be released.

Appalachian D.A. Alison Sosebee

The Appalachian and Enotah Judicial Circuit are continuing to work with law enforcement to protect the community as well as provide those incarcerated with their “Constitutional and statutory rights.”

Both circuit’s district attorneys have confirmed that jail lists are being reviewed, and their offices are working with their respective sheriffs’ offices to try and prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in the jails.

Jails are confined living quarters, like universities or army bases, where disease can quickly spread without precaution measures in place.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit Update

Appalachian District Attorney Alison Sosebee released a statement, which said:

“In regard to the status of current criminal court proceedings in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, on March 14, 2020, Governor Kemp declared a Public Health State of Emergency based on the potential infection and continued transmission of the Coronavirus/COVID-19. As a result, the Georgia Supreme Court declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency. In Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Melton’s Order, he states that “courts should remain open to address essential functions, and in particular courts should give priority to matters necessary to protect the health, safety, and liberty of individuals.” In Justice Melton’s Order, he provides examples of “essential functions” such as (1) where an immediate liberty or safety concern is presently requiring the attention of the court; and (2) criminal court search warrants, arrest warrants, initial appearances, and bond reviews. In conjunction with the foregoing, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Brenda Weaver issued an Order Declaring Judicial Emergency in this Circuit comprised of Fannin, Gilmer, and Pickens counties. Judge Weaver ordered, in conjunction with the Georgia Supreme Court Order, that for a period of thirty days, from March 13, 2020, proceedings shall continue to be held on criminal matters including jail bond hearings, jail first appearance hearings, and jail pleas.

After taking into consideration the declaration of a national emergency by President Trump, the declaration of emergency by Governor Kemp, and the declaration of judicial emergency by the Supreme Court of Georgia, the criminal court system in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit will continue to handle jail bond hearings, jail first appearance hearings and jail pleas in a timely manner.

The District Attorney’s office is operating in conjunction with our local and state law enforcement agencies and judges to ensure that those persons who have been arrested and are incarcerated are provided their constitutional and statutory rights BUT also to ensure that our citizens, property, and community are protected as well. 

The jail lists in each county are being evaluated on a daily basis so that these matters are addressed in a timely manner, particularly in light of the current limited court hearings. Each case is addressed on its own merits and as always, we will remain in contact with our victims not only seeking their input but to ensure they made are aware of any status changes. In reviewing these cases, the District Attorney’s office is working with the Sheriffs in Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens counties and is taking into consideration any safeguards or quarantining measures the Sheriffs have made to prevent against the transmission of Coronavirus/COVID-19 in our county jails. An utmost priority is to ensure the safety and protection of our community.”

At this time, the Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens jails haven’t reported any cases of COVID-19.

Enotah Judicial Circuit Update

Enotah District Attorney Jeff Langley said he instructed his staff to be “more flexible than normal,” when it comes to people unable to pay their bonds or charged with non-violent crimes, like suspended license. Some of these individuals are eligible to leave, but can’t make bond. By releasing these incarcerated individuals, they have an opportunity to self-quarantine at home. This should help to prevent the pandemic from spreading in the jails.

No one under sentence, felony charges, or deemed dangerous will be allowed to leave the jails.

If an attorney puts in a request for a prisoner’s release, the Enotah Circuit is handling and evaluating the situation.

Langley oversees Union, Towns, White, and Lumpkin counties. 

As of March 18, no one in Union, Towns, White, or Lumpkin jails has reported a case of COVID-19.

Northeastern Superior Court Response

 Georgia Supreme Court ordered the lower courts to conduct only essential business matters until April 13. As a result, jury trials aren’t taking place for the foreseeable future. However, judges continue to hear search warrants, arrest warrants, initial appearances, bond reviews.

Chief Superior Court Judge Kathlene F. Gosselin

Chief Superior Court Judge Kathlene F. Gosselin issued a memorandum to the accountability courts addressing operations. It outlined guidelines and suggestions during this time. The document advises:

  • Telework for everyone whenever possible
  • Telehealth options for treatment programs, if in-group treatment is necessary to follow CDC guidelines
  • Court sessions should include only include participants who need access to the judge and to follow social distancing
  • Confirmed COVID-19 cases should be reported to accountability court leadership as soon as possible
  • Drug testing may occur during surveillance visits – gloves and protective gear should be worn
  • Find ways to shorten drug testing lines – space them out, put social distancing in place, reduce the number of tests
  • Courts can choose to only conduct sessions for individuals with new charges

Readers can see more of Gosselin’s COVID-19 response memorandum here.

Gosselin also stressed the importance of everyone maintaining CDC standards for handwashing, sanitation, and social distancing.

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