ATLANTA - Georgia’s governor said Thursday that he plans to use up to $110 million to help the state’s courts recover from a slowdown that was caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The money for grants to courts and related agencies will come from the $4.8 billion in funds the state received under the American Rescue Plan Act to address negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic, Gov. Brian Kemp said in a news release. The governor said there would be a particular focus on ensuring the prosecution of serious violent crimes.
"No one benefits when there is a delay in justice," Kemp said in the release. "My administration collaborated with leaders from the judicial branch and law enforcement to identify innovative solutions which will help crackdown on violent crime in high-need areas, ensure our courts are operating efficiently, and help quickly reduce case backlogs caused by the pandemic."
A statewide judicial emergency order was in effect from March 2020 through June 2021. It significantly limited court operations to protect the health of those who work or had business in the state’s courthouses and, as a result, caused a significant backlog of both criminal and civil cases. Even with the emergency order lifted, court operations continue to be curtailed to accommodate public health protections.
"Most of our state’s government agencies and businesses slowed down or stopped during the COVID pandemic," state Supreme Court Chief Justice David Nahmias, who also chairs the Judicial Council of Georgia, said in a release from the high court.
"The meals that restaurants did not serve will never be served, and the airline flights that were canceled have not been rescheduled," Nahmias said. "But the court cases that could not be decided, particularly when jury trials could not be held safely, remain pending and must be resolved, along with all of the new cases being filed."
Katie Byrd, a spokesperson for Kemp, said the state would create a Violent Crime Task Force that would hire additional prosecutors.
Cases involving serious violent felonies — including murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated child molestation — will be given priority.
Individual courts will propose spending to the Administrative Office of Courts for $96 million of the money, Byrd said. The remaining $14 million go to bolster public defenders, Byrd said.
The newly allocated funds will allow eligible courts and related agencies to hire staff and secure temporary workspace and courtroom facilities to address the case backlog, according to the court’s release.
The Office of Planning and Budget, controlled by the governor, will sign agreements with the courts and public defenders, Byrd said, but no legislation will be needed.