Chief justice begins 100-county courthouse tour

Chief Justice Paul Newby is sworn in during the N.C. Supreme Court investiture ceremony beside his wife, Macon. Photo via NC Judicial Branch

RALEIGH — Chief Justice Paul Newby launched a courthouse tour this week with the ambitious goal of visiting courthouses in all 100 counties.

The tour began in the westernmost part of the state, with visits to Cherokee, Graham, Clay, Macon and Swain counties.

“Our judges and courthouse personnel are the battle-tested heroes of the past year. They came to work, day-in and day-out, facing real and often undefined dangers to fulfill the ‘open courts’ mandate of the North Carolina Constitution,” Chief Justice Newby said in a press release.

The tour is expected to continue with visits scheduled in Jackson, Haywood, Transylvania, Henderson, Polk and Rutherford counties, as well as the Cherokee tribal court. At each courthouse, Chief Justice Newby will greet judges and courthouse personnel to express his appreciation for their commitment and dedication during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism is presenting professional programs during some of the tours’ phases.

“Our courthouse stakeholders are doing their best to ensure that justice is administered without favor, denial, or delay. Our state needs these dedicated public servants now more than ever to help address the large backlog of cases left in the wake of this pandemic,” Newby added.

Chief Justice Newby also extended COVID-19-related emergency directives, with new orders taking effect until June 6.

The new orders note that, in response to Chief Justice Newby’s request to Gov. Roy Cooper, courthouse personnel were designated as “frontline essential workers” and received early access to the COVID-19 vaccine beginning on March 3, 2021.

In light of improving conditions, but in recognition of the ongoing serious risks posed by COVID-19, the order extends only those emergency directives that are necessary to allow the courts to function with due regard for the safety of the public and judicial branch personnel. It also urges senior resident superior court judges to “do whatever they can to resume jury trials without delay” and to “weigh local conditions against the exceedingly negative impacts of further delaying justice.”

Among the directives that remain unchanged are orders relating to remote proceedings and submission of filings to the clerk of court.

Directives relating to performance of marriage ceremonies, required COVID-19 prevention measures, and statewide social distancing requirements were allowed to expire, allowing area judicial officials to make those decisions locally.

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Matt Mercer is the editor in chief of North State Journal and can be reached at [email protected].