September 15 Omnibus Order Extends Emergency Directives

We have posted regularly during the COVID-19 pandemic about emergency directives entered by the Chief Justice pursuant to G.S. 7A-39(b)(2) that establish procedures and protocols governing the continuing operation of the courts. Last month’s post reviewed the status of directives then in place, noting their varying expiration dates. Last week, the Chief Justice entered an omnibus renewal order, which included all emergency directives currently in effect and placed all but one of them on the same expiration cycle. This post will briefly review those directives and other aspects of the September 15, 2020 order.

All of the emergency directives discussed below and included in the Chief Justices’ latest order — other than Emergency Directive 6 — expire October 15, 2020. Emergency Directive 6 expires September 30, 2020.

Emergency Directive 2. This directive requires the posting of notices at court facilities directing that any person who has likely been exposed to COVID-19 should not enter the courthouse.

Emergency Directive 3. This directive (discussed in more detail here) authorizes judicial officials to conduct proceedings that include remote audio and video transmissions notwithstanding other provisions of law.

Emergency Directive 4. This directive provides that attorneys and other persons who do not have business in a courthouse should not enter the courthouse and encourages attorneys to submit filings by mail.

Emergency Directive 5. This directive permits verification of pleadings and other documents by affirmation of the subscriber.

Emergency Directive 6. This directive permits service required by Rule 5 of the Rules of Civil Procedure to be made electronically on a party or a party’s attorney. This directive expires September 30, 2020 as S.L. 2020-46 amends Rule 5 as of October 1, 2020 to authorize electronic service.

Emergency Directive 8. This directive provides that magistrates must continue to perform marriage ceremonies in suitable locations approved by the chief district court judge. The chief district court judge may restrict the hours and times at which marriage ceremonies are conducted.

Emergency Directive 9. This directive provides that no session of court may be scheduled if doing so would result in members of the public sitting or standing in close proximity in contravention of current public health guidance.

Emergency Directive 10. This directive provides that no jury trials may be convened for the next thirty days.

Emergency Directive 11. This directive requires each senior resident superior court judge to serve as or designate a COVID-19 coordinator for each facility in his or her district.

Emergency Directive 12. This directive requires each senior resident superior court judge to ensure that certain public health protocols (including the marking of six foot intervals, the establishing of maximum occupancy, and the cleaning of public areas) are followed for each facility in his or her district.

Emergency Directive 13. This directive requires the COVID-19 coordinator to ensure that certain public health protocols will be followed before any court calendar is published.

Emergency Directive 14. This directive permits clerks to require that filings be submitted using a secure drop box and that access public records be provided by appointment.

Emergency Directive 15. This directive encourages attorneys and litigants to submit filings by mail and provides that documents delivered by U.S. mail are deemed timely filed if received within five business days of the due date.

Emergency Directive 18. This directive provides that no writ of possession may issue in a summary ejectment action unless the magistrate or judge makes certain determinations required by the CARES Act. It also requires that plaintiffs file a form affidavit in such actions.

Emergency Directive 20. This directive provides that a summons in a summary ejectment action must require the defendant to appear within 30 days (rather than the usual 7 days) of issuance.

Emergency Directive 21. This directive requires all persons in a court facility to wear a face covering while they are in common areas and when they are interacting with others. The face-covering requirement does not apply to persons who:

  • cannot wear a face covering for health or safety reasons,
  • are actively eating or drinking,
  • are communicating with someone who is hearing-impaired in a way that requires the mouth to be visible,
  • are temporarily removing their face covering to secure medical services or for identification purposes, or
  • are under eleven years old.

Emergency Directive 22. This directive requires each senior resident superior court judge to craft a plan for the resumption of jury trials in his or her judicial district. If warranted, a chief district court judge may craft a separate plan for the resumption of jury trials in district court. The jury trial resumption plan generally must be approved by specified officials in the county in which jury trials are to be conducted. The latest version of this directive permits, however, a senior resident superior court judge to submit the plan without the approval of all such officials if the approval cannot be obtained despite the senior resident’s good-faith effort to do so. The resumption plans must be submitted to the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Chief Justice by September 30, 2020.

Bond forfeiture proceedings. In addition to the directives listed above, the extension of time in bail bond forfeiture proceedings for motions to set aside and objections to motions to set aside, which may be filed until September 30, 2020, remains in effect. The order imposing that extension also stayed until after September 30, 2020 any entry of final judgment of forfeiture or the granting of a motion to set aside due to the district attorney or board of education’s failure to file a timely written objection.

Additional relief to be liberally granted. Finally, the Chief Justice’s September 15, 2020 order encourages court officials to liberally grant additional relief and accommodations to parties, witnesses, attorneys, and others with business before the courts.