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Social distancing in place, no jury trials until August, Beasley says

 

Jury trials are postponed until at least August, some filing deadlines have been extended, and courthouses must make arrangements for social distancing and providing hand sanitizer once courts begin to ramp up operations on June 1, according to new orders from North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley.

“Until this public health threat has passed, it cannot be business as usual for our court system,” Beasley said during a May 21 press conference announcing the orders.

Beasley also placed restrictions on in-person proceedings to avoid crowded courtrooms and allow for social distancing. No session of court can be scheduled if it would result in the public being crowded into courtrooms or waiting without social distancing, and senior resident superior court judges must ensure that courtroom seating and any areas where lines form are both marked at six-foot intervals, public areas of the courthouse are cleaned throughout the day, and hand sanitizer is provided for the public at every entrance and exit.

Senior resident superior court judges are also directed to assess local court facilities to establish maximum occupancies and determine whether juries can be convened while still maintaining social distancing. If not, they must secure alternate facilities for jury trials, once they resume.

In either event, Beasley ordered that jury trials not be held until August while the court system works to identify alternatives to allow trials to be safely conducted. She said that people may be asked to wear masks or have their temperatures taken, and the Judicial Branch has made requests to the General Assembly to help shoulder the costs of these new policies.

“We are heavily reliant on the legislature to provide the funding for employees and temporary employees and other ways in which we need additional assistance for PPE and the like, to make sure we can safely hold court sessions,” Beasley said. 

Filing deadlines for criminal matters and filings pursuant to statutes of limitation or repose are extended until July 31, but filings in civil matters that had been previously extended are still due June 1. Beasley is also encouraging attorneys and the public to submit filings by mail and allowing a five-day grace period. 

Clerks can require filings be dropped off rather than submitted face-to-face at a service counter. Access to public records must be provided, but may require appointments and limited hours. 

Follow Bill Cresenzo on Twitter @bcresenzonclw

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