A third Georgia probate judge has died of complications from COVID-19.
Karen Batten, Brantley County’s probate judge since 2016, died Monday, said Kevin Holder, executive director of the state Council of Probate Court Judges. Batten was 62.
Batten died after nearly three weeks on a ventilator, Holder said. Her husband, who also contracted the virus, remains in intensive care on a ventilator. Holder said he doesn’t know how Batten contracted the virus.
Council president Kelli Wolk, Cobb County’s probate judge, called Batten’s death “heartbreaking.”
“Judge Batten was a genuinely kind soul,” Wolk said. “She was known to gently rib her colleagues, was always quick to share in a joke or funny story and absolutely loved her job as probate judge. … We will miss her sweet spirit, but we are heartened by the fact that we had the pleasure to cross her path.”
Batten served as the probate court’s chief clerk before she was elected as probate judge in 2016, Holder said. Batten won an uncontested race for reelection this year before becoming ill.
On Sept. 17, Batten notified Waycross Circuit Superior Court Judge Dwayne Gillis that she was closing probate court and placing herself and her two clerks in quarantine. Brantley County is in the Waycross Circuit.
Batten’s positive test prompted Gillis to temporarily close the courthouse after she informed him that an unspecified number of people “working regularly” at the courthouse also had likely been exposed or were experiencing symptoms of the virus.
Batten’s two clerks did not test positive for COVID-19 and have returned to work, Holder said.
Batten’s death follows a decision by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia to continue lifting restrictions that for months have limited the state’s courts to essential and emergency operations. On Oct. 11, Chief Justice Harold Melton issued a new emergency declaration lifting a seven-month suspension of in-person jury trials intended to curb COVID-19′s spread. In September, Melton allowed circuits to begin reconvening grand juries as long as they followed public health and safety protocols.
Melton said he was confident that judges can resume in-person jury trials while protecting jurors, litigants, lawyers and other trial participants from contracting the virus. The justice’s Judiciary Pandemic Task Force has paid for public service announcements to assure potential jurors and others that they will be safe.
Batten was one of 15 probate judges across the state who have been sickened with COVID-19. Eleven probate clerks have also contracted the virus, and one has died. Two other judges—Dougherty County Probate Judge Nancy Stephenson and Chattooga County Probate Judge Jon Payne—also died after contracting the virus.
Stephenson and her husband, Dougherty State Court Judge John Stephenson, were among a number of Dougherty County courthouse employees who contracted the virus after a juror in a high-profile murder trial was hospitalized with COVID-19 in early March.
Alcovy Circuit Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson Jr. died in July after testing positive for COVID-19.