The judicial statewide emergency declared by Chief Justice Harold D. Melton through April 13 will create a backlog that will be a challenge to recover from.
Melton issued the order to provide uniform guidance to courts that were addressing the coronavirus crisis in varying ways. He addressed the need to minimize the number of people exposed to the virus.
“Judges across the state are working to expedite bond conditions. They’re trying,” Melton said in his announcement last week.
Superior Court Judge Bert Guy said the main focus until the health crisis ends is cases that focus on someone’s liberty.
“Anything that’s not an emergency is postponed,” he said.
Meanwhile, the number of postponed civil and criminal trials continue to grow in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit.
“Our court system is very busy,” he said. “Any backlog like this will take a long time to get caught up.”
Until the coronavirus outbreak, Guy said the judicial circuit was doing a good job managing the caseload. One of the challenges will be to reschedule jury trials, which are often time consuming.
When court dates are held during the ongoing health crisis, the accused participate from county jails through video conferencing. The judge, lawyers and other court officials are in the courtroom for the proceedings.
Though the precautions are taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Guy said the public is allowed to attend court proceedings — even with the judicial statewide emergency declaration.
“By law we don’t close the courthouse,” Guy said. “We’re asking people to sit farther apart.”
Court workers spend lots of time sanitizing prior to a proceeding as an additional precaution, he said.
“All we can do is hope our infectious disease experts can help us get through this,” he said. “All we can do is pray.”