Bill Summary for S 255 (2021-2022)

Summary date: 

Mar 15 2021

Bill Information:

View NCGA Bill Details2021
Senate Bill 255 (Public) Filed Thursday, March 11, 2021
AN ACT TO MAKE VARIOUS CHANGES AND TECHNICAL CORRECTIONS TO THE LAWS GOVERNING THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE.
Intro. by Britt, Daniel.

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Bill summary

Section 1

Amends Rule 51 of the Rules of Civil Procedure to require the court to reduce oral jury instructions to writing for civil cases subject to Rule 9(j) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, regarding medical malpractice pleadings. Additionally directs the court to provide the jury a written copy of the oral instructions for the jury to take into the jury room during deliberation. Amends GS 7A-47.3 to direct the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge to designate a specific resident judge or a specific judge assigned to hold court in the district to preside over all proceedings in a case subject to Rule 9(j) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, regarding medical malpractice pleadings. Effective October 1, 2021.

Section 2

Mandates that the 2022-23 master jury list contain not less than 1.25 times and not more than 3 times as many names as were drawn for jury duty in all courts in the county during the 2018-19 biennium if the jury commission determines that those numbers would be more representative of the required number of jurors than the number of names drawn during the previous biennium. In counties preparing an annual 2022 master jury list, requires the list to contain not less than 1.25 times and not more than 3 times as many names drawn during 2019 if the commission determines that those numbers would be more representative of the required number of jurors than the number of names drawn during the previous biennium. Mandates that a master jury list for the 2022-23 biennium or for the 2022 year have no fewer than 500 names. Places no limit on the number of names that can be placed on the master jury list for the 2022-23 biennium or the 2022 year for counties in which different panels of jurors are selected for each weekday.

Section 3

Amends GS 1C-1603 regarding the procedure for setting aside property exempt from the enforcement of creditors' claims, which are set forth in GS 1C-1601. Current procedure prohibits a clerk from issuing an execution or writ of possession for property after judgment unless notice from the court has been served on the judgment debtor advising the debtor of the debtor's rights. Adds a new provision to specify that this notice is not required if the property exemptions under GS 1C-1601 are inapplicable based on their exception from the exemption, set forth in GS 1C-1601(e), which enumerates 10 exemptions including claims of the federal government and claims of the State. Further amends GS 1C-1603 to eliminate the provision stating that failure to file a motion to designate exemptions or failure to request a hearing before the clerk within 20 days after notice of the debtor's rights was served results in waiver of the personal property and homestead exemptions of Sections 1 and 2 of Article X of the NC Constitution; maintains that such failures result in waiver of the exemptions provided in Article 16. Applies to motions and petitions filed on or after the date the act becomes law. 

Section 4

Amends GS 7A-38.2 to add a court management staff member to the Dispute Resolution Commission, appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, thereby increasing the Commission's membership from 17 to 18 members. Adds a new subsection to grant civil immunity to members of the Dispute Resolution Commission and its employees for conduct undertaken in the course of their official duties.

Section 5

Makes the following modifications to the Judicial Standards Commission, governed by GS 7A-375. Requires the General Assembly to appoint alternate Judicial Standards Commission members for the Commission members the General Assembly has appointed to serve in the event of scheduling conflicts, conflicts of interest, disability, or other disqualification in a particular case. Deems the alternate members to have the same qualifications of appointment as the original members. Defines vacancy to arise upon the resignation or death of a member, or no longer having the necessary qualifications. Requires vacancies of NCGA appointed members to be filled by the alternate member appointed, or if the alternate member is unable to serve, then pursuant to the procedures of GS 120-122 (previously, required all vacancies to be filled under GS 120-122). Requires the chair to call upon the alternate member in instances in which NCGA appointed members become disabled or disqualified from participating in a disciplinary proceeding, previously filled as if there were a vacancy under GS 120-122 and limited to disability. Concerning other non-judge members, provides for their replacement with alternates by their respective appointing authority in instances of disability or disqualification from participating in a disciplinary proceeding. Specifies that the Chair, who is the Court of Appeals judge appointed by the Chief Justice, serves at the pleasure of the Chief Justice. Makes conforming changes and organizational changes.

Section 6

Amends GS 15A-305 to specify that an order for arrest can only be issued for a defendant's failure to appear as required by a duly executed criminal summons if the summons charged the defendant with a criminal offense. Applies to orders and arrests issued on or after the date the act becomes law.

Section 7

Amends GS 15A-1011 regarding pleas in district and superior courts. Expands the types of cases authorized for pleas to be received outside of open court in subdivision (a)(4), which currently includes traffic offenses and hunting, fishing, and boating offenses, to include written pleas for the types of offenses specified in GS 7A-273(2) and GS 7A-273(2a) authorized under GS 7A-148(a) (including misdemeanor or infractions cases for alcohol offenses, traffic offenses, hunting, fishing, State park and recreation area rule offenses, boating offenses, open burning offenses and littering offenses, and misdemeanor dune or beach buggy county ordinance violations). Makes conforming changes to and makes the language in GS 7A-180 gender neutral. Applies to pleas received on or after the date the act becomes law. 

Section 8

Amends GS 42-34.1 concerning undertaking an appeal in summary ejectment cases, to specify that a plaintiff appellee can apply to the clerk of superior court to immediately issue a writ of possession if the defendant appellant fails to make rental payments within five business days of the day rent is due under the terms of the residential rental agreement (currently only specifies five days). Applies to applications to the clerk of superior court for writ of possession made on or after October 1, 2021.

Section 9

Amends GS 51-5.5 regarding magistrates' right to recuse from performing lawful marriages. Adds a new provision to specify that a magistrate who is an ordained minister otherwise legally authorized to solemnize marriages in the State is not prohibited from performing lawful marriages as a minister based upon a decision of recusal under the statute. Makes further clarifying changes. Applies to marriages performed prior to, on the day of, and after the date the act becomes law.

Section 10

Enacts GS 7A-49.6 granting a general authorization for judicial officials to conduct proceedings of all types using an audio and video transmission in which the parties, the presiding official, and any other participants can see and hear each other. Requires participating parties to be able to communicate fully and confidentially with his or her attorney, if represented. Requires good cause for allowing a witness to testify by audio or video transmission in proceedings involving a jury. Establishes criteria that must be met when the right to confront witnesses or be present is implicated in criminal or juvenile delinquency proceedings, including (1) the court has obtained a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of the defendant's or juvenile respondent's rights or (2) the court finds that the use of audio and video transmission in the absence of a waiver is necessary to further an important State interest and will not materially prejudice the defendant's or juvenile respondent's rights. Allows parties to object to conducting a proceeding by audio or video transmission, and prohibits holding the proceeding by audio or video transmission if the presiding official finds that the party has demonstrated good cause for the objection. Requires compliance with state and federal laws governing confidentiality and security of confidential information. Provides for public and media access to proceedings and proceeding recordings, if applicable. Specifies that the statute is not intended to limit the court's authority to receive remote testimony under state law. Requires all proceedings to be conducted using videoconferencing applications approved by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). Defines the term judicial official by statutory cross-reference. Applies to proceedings occurring on or after April 1, 2021.

Section 11

Repeals language in the following statutes relating to authority to conduct specific proceedings using audio or video technology, as identified, to reflect the new general authorization for judicial officials to conduct any proceeding using audio or video transmission pursuant to GS 7A-49.6: 7B-1906(h) (concerning hearings for continued custody of a juvenile); GS 15A-101.1(2) (defining document as used in the provisions regarding electronic technology in criminal process and procedure); GS 15A-245(a)(3) (concerning issuance of search warrants); GS 15A-304(d)(3) (concerning warrants for arrest); GS 15A-511(a1) (concerning initial appearance before a magistrate); GS 15A-532 (concerning conditions for pretrial release); GS 15A-601 (concerning first appearance before a district court judge); GS 15A-941 (concerning arraignment); GS 50B-2(e) (concerning ex parte relief in domestic violation actions); GS 50C-6(e) (concerning temporary civil no-contact orders); GS 50C-7 (concerning permanent civil no-contact orders); and GS 122C-268(g) (concerning inpatient commitment). Applies to proceedings occurring on or after that date. Effective April 1, 2021.

Section 12

Authorizes the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to expand the active list of emergency superior court judges to no more than 25, notwithstanding the limit of 10 set in GS 7A-52(a). Expands the Chief Justice's authority to include assignment of emergency judges to hold regular or special sessions of court to address case management issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sunsets the authorities granted on July 1, 2022.

Section 13

Authorizes a justice or judge to administer the required oath prescribed for attorneys remotely using a form of live videoconferencing technology if the individual taking the oath is personally known to the justice or judge or provides satisfactory evidence of identity to the justice or judge, notwithstanding the requirements of GS Chapter 84. Expires December 1, 2021. 

Section 14

Enacts GS 7A-171.3 to direct AOC to prescribe rules of conduct for magistrates, including standards of professional conduct and timeliness, required duties and responsibilities, methods for ethical decision making. Requires AOC to prescribe the rules by October 1, 2021. Applies to magistrate conduct on or after October 1, 2021. 

Sections 15 and 16 include a severability clause and a standard effective date clause. 

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