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STATE: Beasley issues new order, directives expanding court operations

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Chief Justice Cheri Beasley Thursday issued new emergency orders about court operations across North Carolina. The orders extend some filing deadlines, postpone jury trials and require in-person court operations to take place with some defined restrictions to ensure safety protocols like social distancing and routine cleaning take place.

“Court is going to look different for a while. Dockets will be smaller. Cases will be heard online. We’re going to have to socially distance in the courthouse,” said Chief Justice Beasley. “North Carolinians are resilient and resourceful, and we approach our challenges with a spirit of cooperation and innovation that I know will carry us through the challenging days ahead.”

Under the orders entered Thursday, some deadlines for filings and other required actions have been extended to July 31.

• Filing deadlines for criminal matters are extended until July 31.

• Filings due pursuant to statutes of limitation or repose are extended until July 31.

• Filings and actions due in civil matters that had been previously extended are due June 1.

The Chief Justice has also placed a number of restrictions on in-person proceedings to avoid crowded courtrooms and allow for social distancing:

• No session of court may be scheduled if it would result in the public being crowded into courtrooms or waiting in close proximity without social distancing.

• Senior Resident Superior Court Judges are directed to have courtroom seating and all areas where lines form marked with six-foot intervals.

• They must also ensure that public areas of the courthouse are cleaned throughout the day and that hand sanitizer is provided at every entrance and exit.

• Local courts are required to have seating and waiting areas clearly marked in six-foot intervals, establish maximum occupancies for courtrooms, and ensure that hand sanitizer and cleaning services are provided. Many of these steps will require cooperation and support from county governments who own and manage the court facilities.

The Chief Justice also ordered that no jury trials will be held until August while the court system works to identify alternatives to allow those trials to be safely conducted.

Jury trials are postponed through at least the end of July.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judges are also directed to assess local court facilities to determine whether juries can be convened with social distancing. If not, they must secure alternate facilities for jury trials.

The orders also include several measures to limit in-person contact between the public and the staff of local clerk of court offices. Filings by mail are encouraged and clerks may require filings be dropped off rather than submitted face-to-face at a service counter. Access to public records must be provided, but clerks may require appointments and limit hours. To encourage filing by mail, a 5-day grace period will be provided for documents delivered by mail.

• Encourage filings by mail

• Grace period of 5 business days for filings submitted by mail

• Clerks must accept filings and provide access to records during business hours

• May use a secure, physical drop box for filings

• May require appointments and limit hours for public access

In addition, the Supreme Court of North Carolina entered an order on May 14 that made changes to several rules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Court calendars may be published with less advanced notice.

• Attorneys may designate additional secured leave from court.

• Judges will receive continuing education credit for online courses.

Information about specific county operations is available on the court system’s website at NCcourts.gov. The public can use online tools on the website to check for upcoming court dates, sign up for court date reminders, and pay or dismiss traffic tickets.

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