Chief Justice’s Latest Order Whittles Emergency Directives Down to Two

Half of the adults in North Carolina have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and the number of people testing positive for the virus in the state continues to plummet. Fewer than 200 positive cases were identified on the last day for which case counts were reported. Metrics like these signal the waning of a pandemic that has altered the lives of North Carolinians over the past 15 months and that has hampered the operations of state courts. On Friday, Chief Justice Paul Newby issued an order, effective today, extending only two of the dozens of emergency directives that have been issued over the course of the pandemic. Noting that COVID-19 concerns have caused cases to accumulate in the courts, Justice Newby stated that he was extending for 30 days only those directives necessary to dispose of those accumulated cases:  Emergency Directive 3 and Emergency Directive 5.

Emergency Directive 3. This directive (renewed without modification) authorizes judicial officials to conduct proceedings that include remote audio and video transmissions. Remote proceedings must safeguard a defendant’s constitutional rights to confrontation and to presence, maintain required confidentiality, be recorded when required, and allow parties to communicate fully and confidentially with their attorneys.

Emergency Directive 5. This directive (renewed without modification) permits verification of pleadings and other documents by affirmation of the subscriber.

Expiration. Emergency Directives 3 and 5 expire July 4, 2021.

Other guidance. The Chief Justice’s order strongly encourages senior resident superior court judges to resume jury trials without delay.

Expired directives. Emergency Directives 2 (requiring the posting of notices at the courthouse), 11 (requiring a COVID-19 coordinator), 14 (permitting clerks to require filings by secure dropbox and appointments for public records) and 15 (encouraging filing by mail and extending filing deadlines) expired Sunday, June 6. Emergency Directive 21 (requiring face coverings in common areas of courthouses) was eliminated on May 14, 2021.

A comprehensive chart. My colleague, Meredith Smith, has been maintaining a reference chart (available here) that is helpful in keeping track of the directives. I have been considering framing the final version for her office once all of this is over. But that would require a mighty big frame.

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