District Courts reopen locally
Those two words will once again be heard locally as court is back in session within Judicial District 6 (Bertie, Hertford, Bertie and Halifax counties) effective Tuesday, Jan. 19.
This comes per a directive of newly sworn-in North Carolina Chief Justice Paul Newby. He wasted little time getting the state’s court system operational again. In an order on Jan. 14, Newby handed authority to local court systems to decide about reopening.
However, there are health safety protocol to follow for those scheduled to work or appear in court. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the public and staff, only people with business at the courthouse will be allowed to enter. Masks or face coverings are required and social distancing must be observed.
Hertford and Northampton counties were each scheduled to conduct sessions of criminal district court on Tuesday of this week.
In Windsor, Bertie County was scheduled for a session of Superior Court on Tuesday, with a light docket. A busy docket of criminal district court cases was on the schedule for Wednesday (Jan. 20) at the Bertie Courthouse.
Northampton County Superior Court is slated to hear a number of cases beginning next Monday (Jan. 25). According to the court docket, 36 defendants are scheduled to appear before Superior Court Judge Alma Hinton.
Chief Justice Newby’s order replaces an expired directive last issued Dec. 14 by former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. That order shuttered many parts of the court system due to rising COVID-19 cases.
According to a story by David Bass of the Carolina Journal News Service, the new order gives local jurisdictions leeway in deciding when and how to reopen, based on their own judgments on health risks. It also asks Gov. Roy Cooper to prioritize court staff in the state’s COVID-19 vaccination schedule.
“[The] order allows local courthouse leadership, who assess the threat of COVID-19 every day, to tailor preventative measures to meet their specific local challenges,” Newby said in a news release announcing the order. “But they are not alone in this fight. I have requested that the Governor prioritize our court personnel in the COVID-19 vaccination schedule so we can fulfill our constitutional ‘open courts’ mandate to provide equal justice to all in a timely manner.”
The order extends other COVID-related restrictions — such as a requirement that face masks be worn and allowing for virtual court hearings — while permitting others to expire, including a ban jury trials and discouragement of in-person meetings.
“We have a constitutional guarantee that the courts shall be open and that ‘justice shall be administered without favor, denial, or delay’,” Andrew Heath, the new director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, told Carolina Journal. “Our state courts are essential and perform a variety of functions that secure the rights of all North Carolinians.
“The dangers posed by COVID-19 remain serious,” Heath added. “Local courthouse leadership assess the threat of COVID-19 every day, so this order empowers them to tailor preventative measures to meet their specific local challenges.”