by Mike Petchenik – DeKalb County WSBTV
For the first time in several months, some metro municipal courts are back open for business, but with a different look due to the pandemic.
In Dunwoody, officials told Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik they have a backlog of nearly 2,000 cases due to closures as a result of COVID-19.
“At the rate we’re going, it will take us until about October to catch up,” said Jennifer Boettcher, the city’s spokesperson.
A statewide judicial emergency is keeping state and superior courts closed until at least next month, but Boettcher said guidance from the state has allowed the city courts to reopen safely.
“This is a really important function of city government and we felt it was important to open under these safety guidelines set forth by the state,” she told Petchenik.
Boettcher said the new normal in city court includes temperature screenings, symptom questionnaires for anyone entering the courtroom, required masks and chairs set 6 feet apart.
“We want to make sure people are healthy when they come here, are comfortable with the protocols and we want to give them a chance to have their day in court,” she said.
The openings came just days before the city learned an employee has tested positive for COVID-19.
In a statement, Boettcher said of the case:
“We can confirm that an employee tested positive for COVID-19. We wish this employee a speedy recovery. We were notified last night, and Dunwoody City Hall was sanitized overnight.
“Today, court operations continued as scheduled, but other staff members were encouraged to work remotely, as they have for months.
“We are in the process of doing contact tracing to notify employees and community members who have been in close contact with the employee.”
Lawrence Zimmerman, president of the Georgia Association of Defense Lawyers, has been advocating for courtroom safety since the pandemic began.
“We are living through the craziest time in a hundred years,” he said.
Zimmerman said he’s hopeful all municipal courts will have similar guidelines to what Dunwoody is requiring.
He said he’s heard concerns from members about some courts outside of the metro area not requiring masks inside.
“We have to follow these rules,” he said. “It can’t be one person does one thing and one person does something else.”