The North Carolina Judicial Branch continues to monitor and respond to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As Chief Justice, my number one priority is to follow the guidelines of our federal, state, and health officials to protect the health and safety of the public and court personnel, while making sure the courts continue performing the essential work of protecting constitutional rights and public safety.
Closing our court system is not an option, and people who seek the court’s protection should know that we are still here to serve them. However, we must continue to maintain the delicate balance of protecting public safety, protecting victims, and protecting constitutional rights. With this in mind, we have delayed cases where we could and have taken steps to reduce the number of people who are compelled to come to the courthouse. On a normal day, hundreds of people gather in court rooms across North Carolina, and none of our courthouses are designed to manage a regular docket while observing social distancing.
It was important for the courts to do our part to slow the spread of this virus, so we responded quickly with the governor on early intervention. We immediately asked people not to show up for routine court matters like traffic court. We also postponed nonessential hearings to help law enforcement focus their resources on protecting public safety rather than being called into court to testify, except in a limited number of proceedings.
To further encourage people not to come into our county courthouses unless it is necessary, I have issued orders to extend deadlines. I also know that everyone’s lives are upended right now and understand folks are not able to work, their kids are home from school, and orders are in place for folks to stay at home as much as possible. Penalties for missing a deadline in court are very serious, so I felt it was important to give people some grace during this time.
The courts also are using technology in a greater way to extend access to the courts. For example, videoconferencing is being used to handle some court proceedings and processes. We also continue to promote our relatively new public website that provides a host of online services and helpful information about court matters. Learn more at NCcourts.gov.
As the pandemic progresses, we continue to collaborate with state public health partners as well as North Carolina Emergency Management to closely monitor the situation to ensure the health and safety of our courts, judicial community, and the public. Like everyone else, the courts look forward to resuming “business as usual.”