Third Georgia Probate Judge Dies Of COVID-19

By Rosie Manins
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Law360 (October 20, 2020, 8:15 PM EDT) -- A Georgia probate judge who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 died Monday, the third probate judge in the state to have died from complications of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Brantley County Probate Judge Karen Batten died late Monday afternoon, the Council of Probate Court Judges of Georgia announced. The council said on its public Facebook page that "to know her was to love her."

Judge Batten, 62, became a probate judge in 2016 after serving as the court's chief clerk. Her husband also has the virus and remains on a ventilator in a hospital awaiting transfer to a long-term care facility, his windpipe having been cut to help him breathe, the council told Law360 Tuesday.

Council executive director Kevin D. Holder said that Georgia's probate community is like a close-knit family and that Judge Batten's colleagues, friends and relatives were devastated.

"This couldn't have happened to a better person," Holder told Law360 Tuesday. "She was very kind, she had a great nature about her, she formed a lot of bonds in her 2016 class, and they are, as we all are, just heartbroken. She was well-loved, not just among our class of court but also in Brantley County and of course among her friends and family."

Judge Batten's death from the novel coronavirus follows the similar deaths of Chattooga County Probate Judge Jon M. Payne in August and Dougherty County Probate Judge Nancy Stephenson in April.

A few days after Judge Payne, 71, died in August, the probate council also announced the death from COVID-19 of 44-year-old Ginger Carter, deputy clerk in Stephens County Probate Court.

Holder said 15 probate judges and 11 probate clerks in Georgia had tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, including the four who died. He said some had been infected at work.

"I won't solely pin it on the functionality of the court, but I would say they [probate court staff] are more susceptible to get it because some of the processes in probate court are tactile in nature," Holder said.

Probate courts and all other courts in Georgia must adhere to the minimum state and federal guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 but must impose additional restrictions and safety measures if required by county circuit chief judges.

"Our council has had to grieve at various points throughout this year at the loss of our colleagues, and it never gets any easier," the council wrote in its public Facebook post about Judge Batten's death. "She genuinely enjoyed being with her colleagues and they, no doubt, enjoyed her as evidenced by the numerous belly laughs, shared stories and gentle ribbing of one another. May her memory be a blessing to all who had the honor of knowing her."

During an Oct. 5 meeting of the Georgia Judicial Council, Cobb County Probate Judge Kelli M. Wolk, president of the probate court council, said Judge Batten at the time was hospitalized and on a ventilator while her husband was in intensive care at a separate hospital.

The pandemic had hit Georgia's probate court community especially hard, Judge Wolk told the Georgia Judicial Council at its August meeting, just days before Judge Payne's death.

Alcovy Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr. also died in early July, having tested positive for COVID-19. The Newton County coroner ruled that Judge Johnson's death was due to natural causes.

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported Tuesday afternoon that Georgia had more than 342,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and just over 7,600 related deaths since the pandemic began.

--Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

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