Judicial branch officials have long warned that once the state’s courts return to full operations, they will be faced with an unprecedented blizzard of filings and backlog of cases due to the COVID-19 crisis, and now, newly released figures from the North Carolina Judicial Branch illustrate just how serious that crunch is likely to be.
As such, the Judicial Branch is imploring attorneys to start mailing in their filings now, two weeks ahead of the June 1 anticipated date of filing deadlines that North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Court Justice Cheri Beasley has put in place.
Up until March 10 of this year, civil and criminal filings had closely tracked their number from 2019. But beginning with that week, when Beasley issued the first of a series of orders putting a hold on non-essential court proceedings, filings have plummeted by 54 percent, from 373,507 filings in the same period last year to just 172,497 this year. (And that understates the scale of the drop, since the period includes three work days before Beasley’s first order took effect.)
Filings have already started to creep back up somewhat, from a weekly low of 17,517 in the first week of April to 25,125 by the end of the month.
Case dispositions, meanwhile, have dropped 65 percent, from 470,343 from March 10 through May 4 in 2019, to just 161,751 during the same period this year. (The report notes that 2019 had a higher-than-usual number of case dispositions due to the Data Integrity Initiative, an effort to “clean up old pending cases.”)
“Reducing foot traffic into courthouses has been critical to slowing the spread of the virus as we moved through the early stages of this pandemic,” Beasley said. “Working together with judges and clerks of court, we have made it possible for attorneys and the public to hold off on their filings without losing critical legal rights. I am just so very grateful to all of our dedicated court personnel who are working every day on the front lines of the justice system to ensure that we can continue to serve the public.”
Sharon Gladwell, the Judicial Branch’s spokesperson, said that the weeks leading up to June 1 are going to be busy ones for court staff, as the backlog of filings works its way into county courthouses.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure that clerks’ offices are staffed, protected, and ready to accept filings,” Gladwell said. “Members of the bar are encouraged to help relieve the pressure on their local clerk of court by mailing in filings now, well ahead of the deadline. And, as we move into the next few months, wherever possible, attorneys are further encouraged to plan their filings to allow time for mailing them in rather than dropping them off. Reducing the number of face-to-face interactions for our court personnel will help to keep everyone safer.”
Gladwell said attorneys should frequently check nccourts.gov for updated information.
Follow Bill Cresenzo on Twitter @bcresenzonclw