Icy weather's effect on courts 'unprecedented'



LAWRENCEVILLE — Chief Magistrate Judge George Hutchinson has practiced law in Gwinnett for two decades, but he can’t recall the court system ever being dealt a snowy curveball like the one that’s canceled many proceedings this week.

“It’s unprecedented in my recollection,” Hutchinson said Thursday. “I can’t recall the courts ever having been closed for four days, and potentially all week.”

Among the dozens of canceled proceedings were family violence and temporary protective order hearings, along with preliminary hearings that defense attorneys often rely on to argue for bond. Civil hearings that didn’t happen included dispossessory hearings that determine evictions, Hutchinson said.

The weather-induced disruption is forcing court officials to get crafty. They’re adding calendars, figuring out courtroom arrangements and lining up judges to cover them. Another option is to expand existing calendars, meaning some proceedings could spill into the night.

“I think it’ll take us two, possibly three weeks to fully recover from it,” and scheduling snafus are to be expected, Hutchinson said.

Representatives of Gwinnett Superior Court and the District Attorney’s Office did not return calls for comment. A posting on the county’s website said all trials were canceled as of Thursday.

Eight trials scheduled in Gwinnett Superior Court this week included cocaine trafficking, burglary and two rape cases, among others, according to the DA’s Office.

Hutchinson noted that Magistrate Court offices have been open with a judge on duty around the clock. First-appearance hearings for newly charged suspects that are statutorily required within 48 to 72 hours have not been interrupted, he said.

A silver lining to this week’s weather dilemma could be that fewer alleged criminals have ventured into the snow, resulting in less arrests and lighter jail dockets.

“I supposed that’s true,” Hutchinson said with laugh. “That’ll certainly help us in our recovery. There will be other things that will come to fill that void.”