Grand juries still anticipated to reconvene in November

Judge details impact of Bartow jail quarantine on local courts

Posted 12/31/69

On Oct. 14, Bartow County Sheriff Clark Millsap stated that the entire Bartow County Jail population had been placed in quarantine. “Even though these that have tested positive have been …

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Grand juries still anticipated to reconvene in November

Judge details impact of Bartow jail quarantine on local courts

On Oct. 14, Bartow County Sheriff Clark Millsap stated that the entire Bartow County Jail population had been placed in quarantine. 

“Even though these that have tested positive have been largely asymptomatic — not having bad symptoms like low oxygen levels, etc. — we think it is prudent to quarantine to prevent the further spread,” Millsap is quoted in a press release statement.

That press release, however, did not indicate how many inmates — or Bartow County Sheriff's Office (BCSO) personnel — that have tested positive for COVID-19. Nor did the statement indicate how long ago the outbreak began, or how long the quarantine is expected to be in effect.

Georgia Department of Public Health representative Logan Boss confirmed that, as of mid-week, about 30 individuals at the local jail had tested positive for the coronavirus. 

"We would expect additional testing to reveal more,” he told The Daily Tribune News via email. “We’ve been in discussion with jail officials, and they are following recommended Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on management of COVID-19 in correctional and detention facilities.”

Wednesday’s BCSO press release did not indicate if any inmates or personnel had been hospitalized or transferred out of the facility due to COVID-19 complications.

“We provide medical care to the inmates that far exceeds what most of them receive while they are not in custody,” Millsap is quoted. “Please do not call and ask if your relative or loved one has tested positive, due to [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act]  regulations we cannot release this information to you.”

Representatives of the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests from The Daily Tribune News for additional comments prior to deadline. 

Cherokee Judicial Circuit Judge D. Scott Smith, however, said he was informed that the quarantine was scheduled for 14 days. 

“It started back earlier this week, so it will only impact, I think, two Tuesdays — Tuesday being our regular non-jury court day,” he said. “I don’t expect it to extend much further than that.”

Bartow Superior Court will be open Monday and Tuesday, but Judge Smith said he anticipates the calendars to be relatively light.

“It’s going to limit the amount of people that can be before the court that are in custody,” he said. “The lockdown — or shutdown, whatever term you want to use — is a precautionary measure not to expose other members of the jail population and the jail staff to the outbreak.”

Speaking with Cherokee Judicial Circuit prosecutors, Smith said it appears unlikely that his courtroom will be seeing any pleas this week. 

“Obviously, transporting them here would bring the possibility of bringing more exposure here to the courthouse, so it’s going to have a definite impact on this Tuesday’s court session,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s going to be any inmates transported over from the jail to here, so we’ll be primarily doing things that do not involve the inmates’ presence, such as bond hearing motions and any cases that involve people who are not in custody.”

Smith said he has not spoken with prosecutors or defense attorneys about their ability to communicate with inmates during the quarantine.

He did, however, indicate that the quarantine may restrict the court’s ability to even conduct virtual hearings.

“We have been doing some of our court hearings by Zoom here and they’re not really favoring video conferencing right now either because that would entail a jail staff member having to go into one of the pods, potentially, and removing one of those persons and then bringing them out to the area,” he said. “I don’t think the video conferencing is quite as available during the 14-day quarantine as it would have been normally.”

Ultimately, Smith said he does not anticipate the quarantine pushing back the local court calendars that much.

“Long term, I don’t expect it to be that much of a hindrance,” he said. “You can expect the first Tuesday the week we come back from this quarantine is going to be a pretty large calendar.”

Smith said that such is a precautionary measure to ensure not only the health and safety of inmates and jail staff, but courthouse employees, as well. 

“The 14 days will expire and, hopefully, it will have its desired result and the cases won’t expand and we won’t have any further exposure,” he said. “I think we’ll get back to business as usual in about two weeks.”

Smith said that the local circuit is still on track to begin convening grand juries next month. 

“We anticipate that the grand juries will come back into effect in November,” he said. “We’ve already sent out some notices about that, and are taking precautions here at the courthouse to do that in a safe environment — I expect that we’re going to be doing some of the grand jury hearings in a larger courtroom to allow for more safe spacing out of the grand jurors and witnesses.”

He also said efforts are expected to begin next month to piece together a potential calendar for jury trials. At this point, he said the earliest such trials are expected to begin in Bartow Superior Court is January 2021.