Halifax County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Alma Hinton and Chief District Judicial District 6 Judge Brenda Branch today signed an order concerning the operation of courts in response to Governor Roy Cooper’s declaration of a state emergency last week.
The document says it appears to the court “that catastrophic conditions resulting from the public health threat posed by COVID-19 exist in Halifax County, North Carolina.”
Because of the issue, the judges wrote that effective today, superior and district court proceedings will be scheduled or rescheduled for a date no sooner than 30 days from the issuance of this order.
Any person who has business before the court who may be affected by this order should call the clerk of superior Court at 252-593-3000.
The order says proceedings necessary to preserve the right to due process of law — a first appearance or bond hearing, the appointment of counsel for an indigent defendant, a probation hearing or a probable cause hearing — may be held remotely at the judge's discretion.
Proceedings for the purpose of obtaining emergency relief — a domestic violence protection order, temporary restraining order, juvenile custody order, judicial consent to juvenile medical treatment order or a civil commitment order — may be held remotely at the judge's discretion.
The administrative order does not prohibit a judge or other judicial officer from exercising any in chambers or ex parte jurisdiction conferred by law up·on that judge or judicial officer, as provided by law.
The order further says the clerk of superior court shall post a notice at the entrance to every court facility in their county directing that any person who has likely been exposed to COVID -19 should not enter the courthouse.
A person who has likely been exposed to COVID-19 who has business before the courts shall contact the clerk’s office by telephone or other remote means, inform court personnel of the nature of their business before the court, and receive further instruction.
The judges define a person who has likely been exposed to COVID-19 as any person who:
Has traveled to China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, or Iran within the previous 14 days
Has been directed to quarantine, isolate, or self-monitor
Has been diagnosed with COVID-19
Resides with or has been in close contact with any person in the above mentioned categories
The order states the following:
Anyone with an illness is strongly encouraged not to come to the courthouse
Everyone working or attending court at the courthouse should wash their hands frequently
The frequency of cleaning public areas including lobbies, elevators, door handles, and public restrooms shall be increased to three times daily
Throughout the duration of the state of emergency, the following rules are in place:
No spectators will be allowed in the courtrooms. Only defendants, victims, and witnesses are allowed in the courtrooms.
No children under the age of 12 will be allowed in the courtrooms, unless prior arrangements have been made with a court official.
Writs will not be issued. Cases on for disposition may be allowed at the judge's discretion.
Domestic violence ex-parte hearings will be conducted remotely, which includes telephone hearings and other means of audio video communication.
Domestic violence protective orders and no contact orders hearings will be held on every Monday.
Only time-sensitive juvenile cases will be heard on every Thursday.
District court first appearances, bond hearings and jail cases (criminal and child support) will be held on every Wednesday.
Superior court first appearances, bond hearings, and jail cases will be held on Monday of each scheduled term of court.
Temporary Restraining Orders will be conducted remotely, which includes telephone hearings and other means of audio video communication.
Grand Jury will be cancelled.
Only time-sensitive small claims cases are to be scheduled by the clerk of superior court.
All emergency family court matters should be directed to Family Court Administrator Shirley Webb-Owens at 252-593-3015.