News: Quick Takes

Courts place hold on most proceedings because of coronavirus

N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley speaks to reporters on March 13, 2020. (WRAL.com screen shot)
N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley speaks to reporters on March 13, 2020. (WRAL.com screen shot)

North Carolina’s court cases are on hold due to coronavirus. 

Most Superior and District court cases will be paused for 30 days, with “some limited exceptions,” N.C. Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley announced. The rule goes into effect March 16. 

Beasley’s announcement Friday, March 13, follows Gov. Roy Cooper’s Thursday recommendations that all gatherings of more than 100 people be canceled. Cooper declared a state of emergency Tuesday after a handful of coronavirus cases were diagnosed across the state. The number of cases stands at 17. Public health officials expect it to multiply. 

Court sessions draw hundreds of people, Beasley said, and could expose many to the virus. The court must do its part in slowing the spread of coronavirus, she added. 

Thousands of cases will be affected, and the courts are facing months of backlog, Beasley said, citing a need for fairness, efficiency, and cooperation from all parts of the state government.  

Once the 30 day period is up, it will take some long hours for courts to catch up on caseloads, said J. Rich Leonard, dean of Campbell University Law School. But the backlog caused by the break shouldn’t take more than two or three months to resolve, he said.

“Thirty days is not an eternity in terms of litigation,” he said. Additionally, Beasley’s order still allows judges the flexibility they need to advance certain cases under special exceptions.

Those exceptions include the following:

  • the proceeding will be conducted remotely;
  • the proceeding is necessary to preserve the right to due process of law (e.g., a first appearance or bond hearing, the appointment of counsel for an indigent defendant, a probation hearing, a probable cause hearing, etc.);
  • the proceeding is for the purpose of obtaining emergency relief (e.g., a domestic violence protection order, temporary restraining order, juvenile custody order, judicial consent to juvenile medical treatment order, civil commitment order, etc.); or
  • the senior resident superior court judge, chief business court judge, or chief district court judge determines that the proceeding can be conducted under conditions that protect the health and safety of all participants.

Beasley made the right decision to put things on hold, Leonard said. The North Carolina court system has never dealt with a pandemic like this, but it has responded similarly to natural disasters.