The North Carolina Judicial College was founded in 2005 to expand the education and training the School of Government has provided for judicial branch officials since the 1930s. Judicial College funding has enabled the School to provide more courses for a growing court system and to offer training in small group, interactive educational settings. Much of the work of the Judicial College is done in partnership with, and is supported by, the Administrative Office of the Courts. Our latest annual report, which we distributed in hard copy form last week, highlights our work over the last fiscal year. I thought you might be interested in reading about what we’ve been up to and seeing the new faces in our group. In this season of thanks, we are thankful for all of the professionals with whom we are trusted to work and who are dedicated to the administration of justice in North Carolina. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
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In regular times, North Carolina’s state courthouses are high traffic venues, filled with employees, attorneys, media, law enforcement officers, and members of the public. Much of the work that transpires in these venues takes place through in-person interactions. Litigants file pleadings and other paperwork with the clerk’s office. Attorneys meet with clients, witnesses, law enforcement officers, and victims to explain proceedings, negotiate pleas, discuss schedules, and prepare for hearings and trials. Reporters often are on-hand to report on cases, activities, and trends of interest. Some law enforcement officers appear to testify; others are there to provide security. And then there is the public. Hundreds of defendants may appear on any given criminal district court docket. Many of them are accompanied by friends or family members. Some defendants seek to have an attorney appointed; others ask for a continuance. Some plead guilty in open court, and others submit a waiver of appearance, admission of guilt, and pay fines and costs to the clerk to resolve outstanding charges. Victims also appear to observe the disposition of a criminal cases in which they were harmed. Many of these people–defendants, friends, family, and victims alike–may spend hours sitting shoulder to shoulder in a crowded courtroom before completing their business before the court.
The courthouse scene has been dramatically different and has involved significantly fewer in-person interactions in the weeks since Chief Justice Cheri Beasley entered her first COVID-19 emergency directive on March 13, 2020. While courts have remained opened, and judges have continued to hear emergency and time-sensitive matters, regular sessions of criminal court have largely ceased in most districts. Most criminal cases have been continued until June 1, 2020 or later pursuant to the Chief Justice’s directives. With June 1 just a few weeks away and with the Governor slowly easing COVID-19 restrictions, court officials are now considering how they can resume some of their previous in-court activities while ensuring the safety of everyone present in the courthouse—from employees to the public.