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Current Status: NC Courts and COVID-19

Feb 05, 2021

NC courts continue to operate with social distancing measures in place. Local courts are now allowed to make some decisions about safety protocols based on local conditions, provided they meet minimum statewide safety requirements.

COVID-19 has required changes in many aspects of our world, and the North Carolina Judicial Branch has not been an exception. At times, these changes can be confusing and difficult to follow leading many to wonder which emergency directives remain in effect.

On January 14, 2021, Chief Justice Newby issued a court order continuing some of the previously entered emergency directives and allowing others to expire. Most notably, the order authorized local judges to begin non-emergency, in-person hearings, so long as local conditions allow, and social distancing and other COVID safety measures are in place.

Want to know what’s happening in your county?

While permitting local courts to operate based on local conditions is allowing our legal system to begin getting back to normal, it has also created a lot of confusion over each county’s different rules. To find out what’s happening in your county visit this link and click on your county to view local orders.

Statewide Effects of the January COVID Court Order

Below is a summary of the emergency directives that are currently in effect until February 12, 2021, under this most recent order:

Emergency Directive 2: If you have been exposed, don’t enter the court! Call the clerk!

Clerks shall post a notice at all courthouse entrances that persons who have likely been exposed to COVID-19 should not enter the courthouse but should contact the clerk of the superior courts office to receive further instruction. This applies if a person:

a. is experiencing fever, cough, shortness of breath, or loss of smell and/or taste;
b. is under a direction to quarantine, isolate, or self-monitor;
c. has been exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19 within the last fourteen days;
d. has been diagnosed with COVID-19 within the last fourteen days; or
e. resides with or has been in close contact with any person in the abovementioned categories.

Emergency Directive 3: Zoom and Telephone Proceedings

Judicial officials may conduct proceedings using remote audio and video transmissions. A party may object to this for good cause. Additionally, each party to a proceeding that uses remote communication must still be able to communicate fully and confidentially with their attorney.

Emergency Directive 5: Verification of Documents

Pleadings, motions, petitions, supporting affidavits, or any other documents that the General Court of Justice requires to be verified can be sufficiently affirmed by the following language and signature:
“I (we) affirm, under the penalties for perjury, that the foregoing representation(s) is (are) true. (Signed) ___________________”

This does not apply to wills to be probated, conveyances of real estate or documents not filed with the General Court of Justice.

Emergency Directive 8: Marriage Ceremonies

Magistrates shall continue to perform marriage ceremonies. These shall be held in a place approved by the chief district court judge that is capable of allowing all present to practice social distancing.

Emergency Directive 11: Local Leaders

Each court facility shall designate a COVID-19 Coordinator responsible for implementing safety protocols.

Emergency Directive 12: Social Distancing and Cleaning

Court facilities shall be set up to allow for social distancing. Wait lines and places people congregate will be marked with tape showing safe six-foot distances for people to stand. Occupancy of facilities is reduced to allow all present to maintain social distancing. Additionally, hand sanitizer will be available, and high touch areas, like doorknobs and water fountains, will be cleaned periodically throughout the day.

Emergency Directive 14: Filing and Drop Boxes

Clerks are permitted to require that filing be submitted via a secure drop box. Some localities are permitting or requiring e-filing. Check with your local court for local procedures.

Emergency Directive 15: Please File by Mail

Attorneys and litigants are encouraged to submit filings by mail whenever possible.

Emergency Directive 21: Mask Up!

Everyone in court facilities is required to wear a face covering. A face shield may be used in addition to, but not as a substitution for a face mask. This does not apply to people who cannot wear a mask for health or safety reasons or to children under the age of five. In addition, people may remove their masks temporarily for purposes of identification, to communicate with a hearing-impaired person, or who are actively eating or drinking.

Jurors, witnesses, or affiants may be asked to temporarily remove their mask while speaking to allow for the observation of facial expressions and better communication, however this should only be done when six-feet social distancing is possible.

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