RALEIGH – Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Cheri Beasley announced several directives March 13 that will affect how the state’s court system operates during the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus).
Although the superior courts and district courts remain open, effective March 16, superior court and district court proceedings will be rescheduled for at least 30 days, with some exceptions. These exceptions include:
- Proceedings that can be conducted remotely.
- Proceedings necessary to preserve the right to due process of law, such as a first appearance or bond hearing, the appointment of counsel for an indigent defendant, a probation hearing or a probable cause hearing.
- Proceedings for the purpose of obtaining emergency relief, such as a domestic violence protection order, temporary restraining order, juvenile custody order, judicial consent to juvenile medical treatment order or civil commitment order.
- Proceedings in which a jury has already been empaneled or to any grand juries already empaneled.
- If the senior resident superior court judge, chief business court judge, or chief district court judge determines the proceeding can be conducted under conditions that protect the health and safety of all participants.
Magistrates will also continue to issue warrants and perform marriages.
The directive comes after Gov. Roy Cooper gave a recommendation to cancel or postpone gatherings over 100 people and telework if possible. North Carolina has 15 positive cases of coronavirus reported.
Beasley cited Cooper’s recommendation in her decision to postpone court cases. She said thousands of people enter court offices every day, most often because they have been summoned to be there and will risk legal consequences if they do not appear.
During the outbreak of coronavirus, Beasley said superior and district courts are encouraged to liberally grant additional accommodations to parties, witnesses, attorneys and others with business before the courts who are at high risk of contracting the virus.
She strongly encouraged people not to visit court offices unless they are “absolutely needed to be there.” She also suggested people take advantage of services available online at www.ncourts.gov. These include citation services, paying tickets, court payments, signing up for court date notifications and reminders and eFiling court documents for certain courts and case types.
“This will allow us to drastically reduce the exposure caused by crowded sessions of court, which often bring hundreds of people at a time into our courthouses and by doing so, we will be doing our part to help slow the spread of the coronavirus,” she said.
McKinley Wooten Jr., director of N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, said the state’s judicial branch is taking precautions to combat the spread of coronavirus seriously.
“Any person who is likely to transmit the coronavirus is told and admonished to avoid all court facilities,” he said.
Wooten said this includes people who have traveled to China, South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran in the last 14 days; been directed to quarantine, isolate or to self-monitor; been diagnosed with coronavirus; or who live with someone who falls within one of the categories and poses a danger to those going into court facilities.
There are approximately 7,000 employees who work in the state’s judicial branch. Wooten said they have been given the option to work remotely if they can.
“This directive today is really about reducing traffic in the court,” he said.
Thousands of cases will be affected by the directive and courts will need to notify parties and their attorneys of new hearing and trial dates. As a result, Beasley said courts will be dealing with a backlog of cases in the months ahead.
“Unfortunately, in the moment we are facing, we must weigh the benefits of our court services against the need to protect North Carolinians from exposure to coronavirus,” Beasley said.