Georgia has 159 counties. And according to a new study, that’s meant 159 approaches to evictions during the pandemic.
Throughout the state, Georgia’s highest court has directed courts to pause non-essential services to stop the spread of COVID-19. But the details have been left up to the chief justices of local courts.
So Researchers at Georgia State University teamed up with nonprofits, including Georgia Appleseed, to call county courthouses across the state. While courts have suspended hearings for evictions, they found counties were taking very different approaches to other steps in the dispossessory process.
One area where court practices varied was filings, which is the start of the eviction process in the legal system. The report showed that a majority of courts are still accepting filings in some way but whether that was in person, by mail or online depended on the county.
Georgia State University Professor Lauren Sudeall said they explored whether there was any correlation between the continuity of services and the number of local coronavirus cases. The answer was no. She said it appeared the bigger determining factor was technology.
“Larger courts have access to technology, resources that allow them to push cases online,” Sudeall said, “whereas smaller courts don’t have that same level of capability.”
The researchers found larger courts around metro Atlanta have moved essential hearings—not for evictions—online. Sudeall said smaller courts also may serve communities who themselves don’t have access to technology, which also makes online services impractical.
One thing her team found was consistent across the state: almost no county seems to be issuing writs that would allow for the evictions to take place once they have been approved by the courts. That would mean that law enforcement could not force tenants from their homes during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The statewide judicial emergency that has disrupted evictions in Georgia began on March 14. As of yesterday, it has been extended until June 12.