Georgia Defies Supreme Court by Closing Courtrooms to the Public

Thursday, July 05, 2012
Judge John Pridgen
Local judges in Georgia are still closing their courtrooms to the public, despite being told by the nation’s highest court to stop.
The U.S. Supreme Court two years ago vacated a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that had upheld the closure of a DeKalb County courtroom and the removal of citizens during trials. The state was told that only in rare circumstances should a courtroom be closed.
Nevertheless, judges in DeKalb as well as Fulton, Cobb and Towns counties, have continued to shutter their courtrooms, claiming lack of space and security concerns forced them to do so.
Legal battles over the closures have continued. The Southern Center for Human Rights recently sued the Cordele Judicial Circuit because its superior court judges are barring public access to court hearings in Ben Hill and Crisp counties despite the fact they agreed to end the practice in 2004. The lead defendant in the case is Judge John Pridgen, the Chief Judge of the Cordele Judicial Circuit.
John Allen, chairman of Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), has warned judges that closing courtrooms “could be a violation” of state judicial canons “depending on the set of facts surrounding the closing.”
Even lawyers have been stopped by security asking about their business before the court. JQC Director Jeffrey Davis told the Daily Report: “I’ve personally experienced the chill that members of the public would feel,” he said. “I’m a lawyer. It’s not that I’m under-dressed for court.”
Davis added that once a visitor has passed through courthouse security at the entrance, “No citizens should be questioned about the reason they are in a public courtroom.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Public Shut Out of Georgia Courts (by R. Robin McDonald, Daily Report)


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