North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts Director McKinley Wooten, Jr. have announced a 30-day postponement of most court operations in North Carolina, effective Dec. 14, 2020. This includes traffic court and small claims court. Continued dates will be mailed to address on file or people with attorneys should contact their attorneys for the new court date.
The announcement stated, “Out of concern for the safety of court personnel and the public, the Chief Justice intends to issue an emergency directive postponing non-essential, in-person court proceedings for 30 days, beginning Monday, December 14, 2020. This order will mirror Emergency Directive 1, which was issued on March 13. The same plans and procedures developed to safely manage our courthouses in the spring will apply. It is imperative that court operations remain as limited as possible through the next 30 days.
“For most of our courthouses, operations are reduced through the end of the calendar year as many people take leave to observe the holidays. The schedule for jury trials is likely to be light and most courts have the capacity to conduct many proceedings remotely. By holding only truly emergent or essential proceedings in person, we can significantly limit the spread of COVID-19,” Justice Beasley stated.
In addition, scaling back operations for the next 30 days will give local court officials an opportunity to do much needed planning to ensure that the courts are in the best possible position to protect the health and safety of employees and the public in 2021.
“We are hopeful that this planning will minimize or avoid the need for additional shutdowns in early 2021 when community spread is expected to be even higher,” Justice Beasley stated.
In recent weeks, the number of North Carolina counties categorized as “red” or “orange” by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has more than doubled. More than 80 counties are experiencing substantial or critical community spread of COVID-19. This recent surge in COVID-19 cases, percent positivity, and hospitalizations has strained court operations.
Since the pandemic began earlier this year, Judicial Branch officials and employees have reported 291 confirmed positive cases, 40 of which have been reported this week alone. Fifty-three counties have reported partial or complete closures of court facilities during the pandemic, some more than once, and 11 counties have reported closures in the past week alone.