North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced a “thoughtful, bold and innovative” response Friday to combating the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, in crowded court houses: local courts will postpone most cases in district and superior court for at least 30 days with limited exceptions.
“Our state courts play a vital role in protecting the public health and safety,” Beasley said during a press conference. “We settle disputes civilly and promote healthy, secure communities by administering fair and impartial justice accessible to all. 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.”
Her emergency directive to reschedule hearings goes into effect Monday. The district and superior courts will remain open to the public, but Beasley encouraged people to only go when absolutely necessary.
The exceptions to rescheduling hearings include:
• the proceeding will be conducted remotely;
• the proceeding is necessary to preserve the right to due process of law (e.g.,?a first appearance or bond hearing, the appointment of counsel for an indigent defendant, a probation hearing, a probable cause hearing, etc.);
• the proceeding is for the purpose of obtaining emergency relief (e.g.,?a domestic violence protection order, temporary restraining order, juvenile custody order, judicial consent to juvenile medical treatment order, civil commitment order, etc.); or
• the senior resident superior court judge, chief business court judge, or chief district court judge determines that the proceeding can be conducted under conditions that protect the health and safety of all participants.
This directive does not apply to any proceeding in which a jury has already been empaneled or to any grand juries already empaneled. It also does not prohibit a judge or other judicial officer from exercising any in chambers or ex parte jurisdiction conferred by law upon that judge or judicial officer, as provided by law.
Additionally, the superior courts 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 severe illness from COVID-19.
“Thousands of people enter our courthouses every day, most often because they have been summoned to be there and will risk legal consequences if they do not appear, and, while the work of our courts must continue, my first priority is the health and safety of the public that we serve and of the employees who provide those services in our courthouses,” Beasley said. “We must be proactive in taking steps to prioritize the health and safety of our fellow North Carolinians while also maintaining the integrity of our judicial system.”
All counties will post a notice at all court facilities directing any person who has likely been exposed to COVID-19 to not enter the courthouse, according to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). Any person who has likely been exposed and has business before the courts should contact the clerk of superior court’s office by telephone or other remote means for further instruction.
As the courts work to postpone thousands of cases, court officials will notify parties and their attorneys of new hearing and trial dates.
The Judicial Branch will be providing continuous updated information and answers to frequently asked questions on its website, NCcourts.gov.?The public is encouraged to visit the website as a first resort to determine if a question can be answered without calling the local courthouse.
Online court services are available for handling some court business, including citation services, paying tickets, court payments, signing up for court date notifications and reminders, eFiling court documents for certain courts and case types, and more.