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Pandemic jury duty? Georgia county sends summons amid COVID-19

Georgia’s supreme court issued an emergency judicial order suspending jury trials. So, why are some counties still sending letters to appear?

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — When civic duty calls, Allison Sohn says she’s typically ready and eager to serve.

“I get called for jury duty all of the time,” the DeKalb County resident said.

A few days ago, Sohn received a letter summoning her to the county courthouse next week as a potential grand juror - in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

It stopped her in her tracks.

Sohn and her husband have multiple underlying health conditions, including a history of respiratory disease. They’re the type of patients most likely to be hospitalized if infected with COVID-19.

“Having done jury duty before, I know the facility and I feel there isn’t a way to safely social distance when you are sitting with all those people waiting for them to decide who they’re going to pick,” Sohn said.

RELATED: Kemp extends public health emergency, lifts shelter-in-place for most residents

Credit: WXIA

The DeKalb County letter requests her appearance on Tuesday, May 5 after the state supreme court suspended all juries in April. A separate letter in the same envelope provides conflicting information about the same summons. 

“Given the current situation and what may occur over the course of the next 30-days there is a possibility that the need to report for your scheduled Grand Jury duty may change,” wrote a county clerk. 

The letter then includes a phone number to call the day before the summoning date to verify if Sohn is needed.

Sohn said the letters were confusing and anxiety-inducing. 

“I can’t be expected to go into a venue where I have no idea what precautions they’ve taken,” she said.

According to an email from Cathy McCumber, DeKalb County’s court administrator, the summons appears to have been sent to provide proper notification to potential grand jurors for later dates, not that jurors will be required to appear before the state-wide juror suspension is over.

“The summons for the May-June Grand Jury term needed to be mailed prior to the extension of the original order,” said McCumber. “That is why the “Notice Regarding Coronavirus” was included and instructs the individuals to call the evening of May 4, 2020, to verify whether or not they would actually be required to report. “

RELATED: Supreme Court postpones arguments due to coronavirus

DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston said that when the court does resume grand juries, they’ll be ready.

“Anyone that is going to be part of our process, we are going to make sure that they are safe, the people around them are safe and that the community is safe,” said Boston in a virtual town hall Wednesday afternoon.

Boston said the county will provide jurors with face masks and the court could possibly move grand jurors to a location to ensure six-foot social distancing.

“What I would say is, first and foremost, the safety of the public and following the CDC guidelines is the number one driver of what we’re doing,” said Boston.

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus.  We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information.  

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information. 

CORONAVIRUS LINKS: 

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Georgia officials urge public to wear masks

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