Judge order policies changes as Douglas County courthouse reopens to public

As businesses steadily reopen in Georgia, county courthouses are slowly returning to a more traditional public setting as well. In Douglas County, Chief Judge David Emerson said new policies are in place effective this week.

"We are requiring everyone to wear a mask and have their temperature checked," said Judge Emerson.

In an order signed by the chief judge, Douglas County deputies now have the authority to decline entrance into the courthouse to anyone not wearing a mask. The same is true if a visitor's temperature scan reads100.4 degrees or higher.

"We talked to the public health folks and we used the number they recommended, said Emerson.

Douglas County courthouse (Douglas County Government)

When you do get inside, you'll notice lots of markings and signage to help encourage social distancing.

"When they come up to the courtrooms, the courtrooms are now taped off to keep people a part. We've got basically every other pew available for seating. We actually had a podium set up to talk to the prosecutors with about six to ten feet of separation and it's worked it very well," said Judge Emerson.

"So far, so good. It's a little inconvenient, but it's worth it.

I think they're doing good job," said Douglas County resident and courthouse visitor Jeffrey Dillard.

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Douglas County courthouse (Douglas County Government)

Judge Emerson said many court services will still be offered in a virtual setting. But, he said the court staff has tried to cover all the bases to make a visit to the courthouse as safe and effective as possible without compromising the legal matters at hand.

"If they want to apply for a public defender, we send them downstairs and the public defender’s office is set up to talk to them and they email me back about whether they're accepting or whether they approved or not. Even the court reporters are working remotely, and they say they can hear and see everything clearly," said the judge.

Douglas County courthouse (Douglas County Government)

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It's not clear how long the new policies will be in place, but the judge said he is in constant conversation with state courts and public health officials to monitor the need for the new policies. Courthouse visitor said she felt more comfortable entering the courthouse knowing everyone was wearing a mask.

"If they go ahead and implement it now, people can start to get used to it and will know it's required in the long run, so I think it will be good for all of us," Tucker said as she stood outside of the courthouse facility Wednesday.

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