Is Court Canceled or Not? There is no System to Know

Irma has been an adventure. It was an adventure that started last Friday when I drove down to Mitchell County, Georgia (about as far Southwest as you can go in the state and not be in Florida or Alabama). I drove down to see a habeas client for final preparations for what would have been a habeas corpus hearing in that county this morning. On the way south on the interstate were drivers headed out of Florida about driving about about 10 miles per hour. So, I saw my client and headed back north via backroads. I received an email about the time I arrived back that there would be no court in Mitchell County on Tuesday due to the hurricane. Mitchell was my only court appearance this week.

Other colleagues were not so lucky. Eventually most of the courts were canceled for Monday and Tuesday. But what I noticed was a lack of any kind of uniform coherent way to know. In one court, some of the judges canceled but others were holding out. And when the announcements went out, there was no system. In some instances, the president of the local bar broke the news. In others, there was an announcement on the Court’s website. Some courts, though, either have no website or a very bare bones one. And my colleagues who had administrative hearings were struggling even more. I saw no end of email, group texts, tweets, Facebook posts, and instagram posts from lawyers trying to figure out what to do. And for every lawyer wondering what to do, there were witnesses, experts, court reporters, and staff trying to figure out what they should do with their time.

Georgia has almost 200 counties, each function in their own little world. And in many of those counties there are individual judges who function in their own sub-kingdom.

As we clean up tree limbs and wait for utilities to come back on, we should take stock at how poorly organized out courts are in announcing cancelations for inclement weather. And perhaps now would be a good time to develop a system or centralized place to turn for information so that we are not trying to tune in to the grapevine to figure out. Why would we worry on Sunday night as Irma was inching its way toward us? Because every lawyer has appropriate anxiety regarding that one mercurial judge we know who might Order us to appear on penalty of contempt even if the route to court were paved through three funnel clouds. With a uniform system, we wouldn’t need to guess.

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