With safety measures in place, our local courts have remained open, and we have addressed non-jury matters on a regular basis throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, however, suspended jury trials throughout the state last March. In July, I was directed to work together with local officials to prepare a plan for the safe resumption of jury trials. With the help of Chief District Court Judge Christy Wilhelm, Clerk Bill Baggs, District Attorney Roxann Vaneekhoven, Sheriff Van Shaw, attorney Andy Clement, Dr. Bonnie Coyle, director of the Cabarrus Health Alliance, and others, our court submitted a plan that has been approved by the chief justice and the Administrative Office of the Courts to restart jury trials in Cabarrus County.
We are living in challenging times caused by the pandemic. The court must continue to address emergency and time-sensitive cases and must do so in a safe manner. Our court, in consultation with the Cabarrus Health Alliance, has engaged in continuous and extensive planning since March to keep our court functioning and to protect the health of those who work in the courthouse and those that interact with us. We have continued to address non-jury matters throughout the pandemic and have found innovative ways to improve our courts, such as the use of teleconferencing to conduct hearings.
Despite these efforts, there is no escaping the fact that jury trials are fundamental. Our community depends upon citizens serving on trial juries and grand juries to provide justice. We look forward to welcoming jurors back to our courthouse.
We take public health and public safety seriously and have implemented policies to minimize the risk of infection. We have taken the following precautions:
• Social distancing is required in our courthouse. The capacity of our courtrooms has been dramatically reduced and seats have been marked to provide 6 feet of space in all directions.
• Everyone entering or remaining in the courthouse must wear a mask unless they meet specific expectations. Masks are being provided to those who arrive without them.
• Hand sanitizer is being provided at each courthouse entrance and in the courtrooms. Additionally, gloves will be made available upon request.
• The courthouse is being cleaned daily, and frequently touched areas are cleaned continuously throughout the day.
• Jury pools will not be assembled in large groups. Once selected, jurors will not sit in a jury box, but will instead be seated in the area usually reserved for the audience. Jurors will not deliberate in the jury room but will decide the case in another large courtroom that provides for appropriate social distancing.
• The trial will be livestreamed into a separate room to provide spectators the opportunity to observe the trial and to keep our court open to the public.
The court, of course, will defer or excuse jurors who have special heath concerns. We will also screen jurors and participants daily. For additional information, visit https://www.nccourts.gov/covid-19.
We look forward to the resumption of jury trials in our community. Our court appreciates the support of our county government in implementing our plan. The support and cooperation of court employees, prosecutors and defense attorneys is also appreciated. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, thank you to the jurors who will provide one of our most fundamental rights — the right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers.
Judge Marty McGee is senior resident Superior Court judge, Judicial District 19A (Cabarrus County).