Courts issue new COVID-19 guidance as NC cases continue to grow
The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts issued new guidance Sunday night in the wake of the spread of COVID-19, which includes postponing foreclosures, small claims hearings and evictions.
In a memo released Sunday, North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley asked judicial officials to drastically reduce operations in courthouses throughout the state. The memo updated several directives delivered in her Friday order limiting court systems operations. She stressed that while courthouses must remain open, officials must drastically curtail trips to local courts to help reduce community transmission of COVID-19, the disease that is caused by the new coronavirus, and further protect employees of the courts who must still interact with the public.
“Put simply, it cannot be business as usual for our court system,” she stated in the memo. “Non-essential court functions that cannot be accomplished through the use of remote technology must be postponed.”
As of Sunday night, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services was reporting 32 positive coronavirus cases – 14 cases in Wake, four in Mecklenburg, two each in Johnston, Harnett and Forsyth, and one each in Wayne, Chatham, Durham, Brunswick, Onslow, Craven, Cabarrus and Watauga counties.
North Carolina officials and agencies have been announcing various orders and guidance to stop the spread of the virus as the numbers continue to climb. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered Saturday that all public K-12 schools close beginning today for at least two weeks. On Sunday, governors across the nation announced shutting down restaurants and large gatherings, and California ordered anyone over the age of 65 to self-isolate. A short time later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance calling for the cancellation of in-person events of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing,” the CDC website states. “When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.” The guidance does not apply to the day-to-day operation of organizations such as schools, higher education institutions or businesses. “This recommendation is made in an attempt to reduce introduction of the virus into new communities and to slow the spread of infection in communities already affected by the virus,” the site states. “This recommendation is not intended to supersede the advice of local public health officials.”
North Carolina officials have been working since January to try to curb community spread of COVID-19. The memo sent jointly by Beasley and AOC Director McKinley Wooten directed the following for court systems across the state:
- In-person meetings must be postponed or cancelled to the fullest extent possible.
- When cases or hearings cannot be postponed for the next 30 days, remote technologies should be utilized as authorized by law and to the fullest extent possible.
- Involuntary commitment hearings, guardianship hearings, and pressing estate administration matters should be conducted, but other matters before the clerk, such as foreclosures and other special proceedings, must be postponed.
- Magistrates must conduct initial appearances and, subject to health precautions, should continue to perform weddings, but small claims proceedings, including evictions, must be postponed.
- All civil and criminal district and superior court matters must be postponed unless they are absolutely essential for constitutional or public safety reasons.
Beasley’s Friday order already directed that all superior and district court proceedings be postponed for at least 30 days, with limited exceptions, including proceedings necessary to preserve the right to due process of law and proceedings for the purpose of obtaining emergency relief (e.g., a domestic violence protection order, temporary restraining order, juvenile custody order, etc.). “Preventing the spread of #coronavirus is requiring us to take unprecedented steps to curtail court operations,” Beasley tweeted Sunday night. “We appreciate the patience and support of lawyers and litigants as we work together through challenging times.” Read Beasley and Wooten’s full memo from Sunday below.
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