May 06, 2020

COVID-19: Georgia Supreme Court Likely to Extend Video Trial in Non-Jury Matters for Another 6 months

The Georgia Supreme Court seems likely to extend the video conference trial rule (Unified Superior Court Rule 9.1) by amendment this week.  In essence, the rule will provide parties the option of moving forward with non-jury trial matters by video conference through December 2020 if the language of the proposed rule is adopted.  Of note in the rule is the amount of discretion a trial judge has over the matter, including whether the proceeding can be done by video (such a proceeding will not be allowed if there is a guaranteed right to trial by jury which has not been waived or where the parties do not agree to hold a bench trial), the designation of who will bear the costs of the proceeding, and the timing of the matter.  The draft amendment is outlined below.  The Georgia Supreme Court will accept attorney comments on the rule until 4pm on May 6; barring any overriding concerns from the respective bars around the state of Georgia, it is anticipated the Rule will go into effect May 7, 2020. 

The proposed draft rule USCR 9.1 reads as follows:  

Rule 9.1. Telephone or Video Conferencing  

The trial court on its own motion or upon the request of any party may in its discretion conduct civil pre-trial proceedings, or post-trial proceedings, and non-jury trials by telephone or video conference with attorneys for all affected parties, and with the parties and all necessary witnesses in the case of trials or other adjudications. 

The trial judge may specify:  

     (A) The time and the person who will initiate the conference;  

     (B) The party which is to incur the initial expense of the conference call, or the apportionment of such costs among the parties, while retaining the discretion to make an adjustment of such costs upon final resolution of the case by taxing same as part of the costs; and  

     (C) Any other matter or requirement necessary to accomplish or facilitate the telephone or video conference; and  

     (D) As it relates to trials in non-jury matters, this rule shall be applicable only to civil cases where there is no right to a jury trial, where a party has not demanded a jury trial as required by law, or where the parties have waived the right to a jury trial as provided by law.  

Provision shall be made to preserve the confidentiality of attorney-client communications and privilege in accordance with Georgia law. All trials conducted under this Rule shall comply with all applicable constitutional requirements, including due process and public access requirements.  

To ensure public access, the following requirements shall apply to trials conducted under this Rule:  

     (1) Notice shall be given to the parties and the public that a proceeding will occur wholly by remote video conference.  

          (a) Such notice may be given by a website posting or similar means.  

          (b) In the event a court provides public access to a livestream of all proceedings to which the right of open courts applies, the livestream may constitute such notice, provided that notice of the livestream itself is provided through the websites of one or more of the following: the court; the clerk of court; the Council of Superior Court Judges; and the local bar association(s), if any.  

     (2) If a party or a member of the public objects to the remote proceeding, the court shall sustain or overrule such objection prior to conducting the proceeding.  

     (3) The public shall be given an opportunity to view the remote video conference, such as by joining the video conference (although unable to participate), through a livestream, or through substantially similar means.

If you have any questions, please contact one of the attorneys in our Atlanta office at (470) 740-4100.