A federal judge is doing what she can to calm us down.

“Be kind to one another in this most stressful of times,” U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg of the Northern District of Georgia said in the final paragraph of a three-page order detailing new procedures and extended deadlines “based on the emergency public health and safety conditions posed by the outbreak of the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) disease.”

Totenberg’s order comes as the number of people sick or dead in the global pandemic multiplies daily, and the lucky ones scramble to secure supplies and organize for a long period of working remotely or otherwise isolating with families—including children who suddenly have to home school. All are learning new words. Social distancing. Flattening the curve. Controlling the spread.

The judge’s picture may look familiar to those familiar with the work of longtime NPR U.S. Supreme Court correspondent Nina Totenberg. They are sisters.

At Amy Totenberg’s court, Chief Judge Thomas Thrash has suspended all jury trials and accompanying trial deadlines for 30 days. He has said no jurors will be summoned for civil or criminal jury trials in any division in the district—including Rome, Gainesvill, and Newnan—for 30 days. All grand jury proceedings are also suspended.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton declared a statewide judicial emergency, effective immediately, due to the spread of the coronavirus throughout Georgia “and the potential infection of those who work in or are required to appear in our courts.” Melton’s order came on Saturday following Gov. Brian Kemp’s declaration of state of emergency and a day after multiple local chief judges made similar declarations in their circuits.

Melton’s order stated that courts “should remain open to address essential functions, and in particular courts should give priority to matters defined as those necessary to protect health, safety, and liberty of individuals.”

Totenberg’s order detailed her working routine during the next month.

“My chambers will continue to operate, work, and handle all civil and criminal matters,” Totenberg said. “At least for the next 30 days, I will not conduct in-person hearings in civil cases absent exceptional circumstances or a properly supported request for time sensitive injunctive relief requiring an evidentiary presentation. To the extent feasible, the Court will handle all hearings required by phone or video.”

Discovery time is extended by 30 days in all cases, unless other arrangements have been made, she said. The instructions include where to drop off courtesy copies of documents while the courts are partially shut down. She directed attorneys to abide by her standing orders for handling discovery disputes.

She added the “be kind” directive to the end of her order.

“Remember to maintain your perspective about legal disputes, given the larger life challenges now besetting our communities and world,” Totenberg said. “Good luck to one and all.”


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