gavel and justice scales

Starting Monday, most district and superior court cases will be continued for 30 days in North Carolina to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley of the N.C. Supreme Court announced Friday.

However, every courthouse in the state's 100 counties will remain open, Beasley said at a news conference in Raleigh.

"We want people who are sick or believe they have been exposed to avoid coming to court," Beasley said, "and I encourage judicial officials to be liberal in using their discretion to grant relief to people who are unable to come to court."

There are cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in North Carolina, and two reported cases in Forsyth County, state and local health officials say.

Throughout the United States, there have been 1,215 cases, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus has resulted in 36 deaths of U.S. residents.

Court officials in North Carolina are continuing cases to protect state residents from being exposed to the coronavirus, Beasley said. 

"Thousands of people enter our courthouses every day, most often because they have been summoned to be there ...," Beasley said. "While the work of our courts must continue, my first priority is the health and safety of the public and employees."

There are exceptions to the continued-cases directive, said McKinley Wooten, the director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts.

Magistrates will continue to conduct some small claims proceedings, issue warrants, and perform marriages, Wooten said. Proceedings before the county clerks of superior courts, such as estate administrations, guardianships, commitments, and other special proceedings, will continue, he said.

Hearings regarding domestic violence protective orders will continue.

Proceedings that will be conducted remotely, hearings to preserve the right to due process of law and proceedings for obtaining emergency relief will continue, Wooten said. Senior resident superior court judges, chief business court judges, or chief district court judges can determine whether hearings can be conducted under conditions that protect the health and safety of all participants, he said.

Notices about the changes in court cases will be posted on the entrances of every courthouse, Beasley said.

There are about 7,000 employees who work in the state's judicial branch, Wooten said.

jhinton@wsjournal.com

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