First and foremost, I hope everyone is safe, healthy and practicing social distancing!! For most of us, nearly all aspects of our lives have changed dramatically in the past few weeks. Work, school and yes, the Courts, have all been affected by this novel virus. One thing that has not changed during this time at the Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor, PC, is our commitment to our clients.
The good news is that for most of our clients, the Court closures will have little to no effect on your claim. All of our attorneys are working full time to try to get your claim resolved as quickly as possible, along with the critical assistance of our amazing staff.
Additionally, the closure should only have a fairly minimal effect on those cases that are in litigation (meaning a lawsuit has actually been filed). As of this writing, the Courts are only closed in North Carolina through April 16, 2020. Importantly, this is not a complete shutdown of the Courts and many proceedings are still going forward. With regard to primarily criminal matters, the Court is still able to proceed as necessary to protect citizens’ due process rights, such as bond hearings and first appearances. The Court is also still able to process emergency matters such as protective orders and minor (children under 18) custody matters. It seems the closure, which was entered by North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley on March 13, 2020 and began on March 16, 2020, affects mainly Small Claims, District and Superior Court civil matters.
There are some exceptions to the above closures, but anecdotally, those exceptions seem to vary among each county and the individual Judges. The Order entered by Chief Justice Beasley does allow for matters to move forward where they can be done remotely. Some Judges have embraced available technology and are holding some matters via video conferencing, while others have interpreted this as anything that is not specifically outlined in the Order must be continued until after April 16, 2020. The discretion is allowed by the Order so that the individual Judge has the ability to make the determination as to whether a particular matter can be done as long as the health and safety of all participants is protected. Given the novelty of the virus it is understandable why some Judges are simply postponing all non-essential matters.
In addition to the closures, Chief Justice Beasley ordered that any and all deadlines for any matters that were due between March 16, 2020 and April 17, 2020 will be deemed timely filed as long as they are filed before 5:00 pm on April 17, 2020. This includes pleadings, motions, notices and even those matters with statutes of limitation that will expire during this period.
Chief Justice Beasley also issued a separate Order on March 27, 2020 that specifically addressed those matters pending before the Appellate Courts. Those matters as well as any matters governed by the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure between March 27, 2020 and April 30, 2020 are automatically extended by 60 days.
Subsequent to Chief Justice Beasley’s Order of March 13, 2020 regarding the lower Courts and the same day as Chief Justice Beasley’s Order of March 27, 2020 regarding the Appellate Courts, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued a State-wide Executive “Stay at Home” Order. However, Governor Cooper’s Executive Order does allow for “essential” professional services to remain open. Thankfully, this includes legal services, among others. At this point, what remains to be seen is what will happen with regard to Chief Justice Beasley’s Order regarding the lower Courts since Governor Cooper’s Executive Order currently extends beyond her Order ending April 16, 2020.
Additionally, each county may have its own regulations regarding COVID 19. If you are unsure as to the status of your particular location’s regulations, a good place to check is the county website. Each county should have its own website that includes any regulations, rules and ordinances regarding COVID 19.
If you are concerned about a court date, the best place to check is the North Carolina Court System website, which can be found at nccourts.org. This site has court dates for both criminal and civil matters. Copies of the Orders referenced above can also be found there.
Above all, please know that at the Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor, PC, we are staying abreast of the latest changes and are here to answer any questions you may have during these new and challenging times and are available to help you with your legal needs. We appreciate your business and look forward to continuing to help you as we all move forward together.
UPDATE: As of 4/3/2020, Chief Justice Beasley’s Order of March 13, 2020 as explained below is essentially extended through May 31, 2020. Please contact your local Clerk of Court or visit www.nccourts.org to look up your criminal or civil matter as well as any local orders by the Resident Judges of each county.