RALEIGH – Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts director McKinley Wooten, Jr. sent a memo to judicial branch employees on April 30 to highlight the Chief Justice’s new COVID-19 task force and provide an update on the status of court proceedings.
The memo reads in part:
We have been closely monitoring the guidance of public health officials as we think about our path forward. Last week, Gov. Cooper announced a graduated plan for lifting restrictions on mass gatherings and reopening North Carolina’s businesses. That plan indicates that we must continue to exercise social distancing and limit the gathering of large groups, particularly in public places, well into the summer.
Beasley said it is clear that courts will not be able to resume normal functions for several more months, likely into the fall. She also cautioned that court functions cannot remain “frozen in time” and plans would need to be created to provide services to the public and protect health and safety.
Further, Beasley said it will not be possible to convene jury trials or other high-volume court sessions in June. She had previously ordered courts closed until June 1.
The rotation of superior court judges will be suspended for the fall term and all superior court judges will be assigned to their home districts. Rumors swirled on Friday about the exact timing, which could be through the end of 2020. A source in one county told NSJ that they were planning on not having court sessions in June or July.
NSJ reached out to the NCAOC, which clarified that courthouses remained open for limited purposes.
“On March 15 Chief Justice Cheri Beasley asked judicial officials to drastically reduce operations in courthouses throughout the state in an effort to further limit the spread of the coronavirus,” said Charles Keller, an information and communication specialist with the agency. “While a very few courthouses had to close temporarily due to employees being exposed to COVID-19, most of North Carolina’s courthouses have remained open.”
The second order from Chief Justice Beasley stated documents due to be filed from March 16 to June 1 will be deemed timely filed if received on June 1, 2020.
Already in the state’s 18th prosecutorial district, which covers Chatham and Orange counties, hundreds of cases have been dismissed citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The cases were previously on the district court criminal docket. Several more district attorneys’ offices are considering similar measures.
To assist in developing plans for dealing with case backlog and other administrative items, a 16-person task force was formed and is co-chaired by Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Don Bridges and Chief District Court Judge Jay Corpening. The task force will work with the conferences and associations within the branch to put forward recommendations for future policies and best practices.
Members of the Judicial Branch COVID–19 Task Force
Don Bridges, Co-Chair, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge, Cleveland and Lincoln counties
Jay Corpening, Co-Chair, Chief District Court Judge, New Hanover and Pender counties
Wayland Sermons, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge; Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Washington, and Tyrrell counties
Teresa Vincent, Chief District Court Judge, Guilford County
Billy West, District Attorney, Cumberland County
Robert Evans, District Attorney; Nash, Edgecombe, and Wilson counties
Marsha Johnson, Clerk of Superior Court, Harnett County
Elisa Chinn-Gary, Clerk of Superior Court, Mecklenburg County
Kinsley Craig, Trial Court Administrator, Cleveland and Lincoln counties
Kellie Myers, Trial Court Administrator, Wake County
Jason Cheek, Magistrate, Davidson County
Jennifer Harjo, Public Defender, New Hanover and Pender counties
John M. McCabe, Attorney, Wake County
J. Wade Harrison, Attorney, Alamance and Guilford counties
Patrick Benton Weede, Attorney, Wake County
JD Keister, Attorney, Wake County
More news and updates are located on the North Carolina Court system website.