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State, local courts limiting proceedings in effort to protect against coronavirus

By Shavonne Potts
shavonne.potts@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — In an effort to protect public health during the outbreak of the COVID-19, state and local court officials on Friday announced several directives, including limiting court proceedings and ordering that most district and superior court cases be continued for at least 30 days.

Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced that, effective Monday, she’s ordering most district and superior court cases be continued, with some limited exceptions. While the work of the courts must continue, Beasley said her first priority is the health and safety of the public that is served and the employees who provide those services.

“Thousands of people enter our courthouses every day most often because they have been summoned to be there and will risk legal consequences if they do not appear,” Beasley said.

Similarly, Rowan County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Anna Mills Wagoner and Chief District Court Judge Charlie Brown have issued an administrative order that those who are ill or have underlying health conditions, including people at high risk of severe illness, are not required to report for jury duty and may have their services deferred by calling the jury clerk at 704-797-3035 or email Cathy Stewart at cathy.p.stewart@nccourts.org.

The local judges defined high risk as older adults and people with serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or weakened immune systems.

“We are in constant communication with Sheriff Auten, District Attorney Cook and Clerk of Court Jeff Barger to assess and modify our order as dictated by changing circumstances. We wish to make clear that jurors summoned for a trial session are not to report until further notice,” Wagoner said.

Defendants and witnesses, including law enforcement officers, are not required to appear in district or superior court pending notification to 704-797-3001 for civil or 704-797-3015 for criminal court or by having an attorney report that information to the presiding judge on the day of court.

Attorneys also are not required to be present in court, provided they give notice to the court and opposing counsel prior to the day the matter is scheduled.

Those who are ill are strongly urged to not attend court, and those who do attend and work should frequently wash their hands.

The emergency directive does not apply to any proceeding in which a jury or grand jury has already been empaneled.

“We do recognize the need for some limited exceptions to help lessen the impact of our business community and our N.C. families,” said McKinley Wooten, director of NC Administrative Office of the Courts. “Those exceptions are bond and probable cause hearings; victims of domestic violence and protective orders will continue to be processed; magistrates will continue to issue warrants and perform weddings; and procedures that go before the clerks, including estates, guardianships, commitments and other special proceedings.”

Some court proceedings will be done remotely by telephone or video conference and judges can exercise their discretion. Pending trials will continue. So, too, will bond consideration hearings, first appearances, juvenile hearings and domestic violence protective hearings.

The courts are strongly encouraging people to not attend unless they absolutely need to be there, Beasley said during a news conference.

“Our goal is to drastically decrease the number of people who use our courthouses to handle their matters,” Beasley said.

Thousands of cases are expected to be impacted, Beasley said, because the court system serves thousands across the state daily.

The local administrative order will expire at the expiration of the governor’s state of emergency or further notice from the state court system.

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