Hoping for the best, planning for the worst: Wake County courts prepare in case of outbreak

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The heads of every department inside the Wake County Justice Center are working to ensure they can operate those departments during a COVID-19 outbreak.

"We're very much operating under the old saying of hoping for the best and planning for the worst," Wake County's Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway said.

And there's a lot to consider, according to Ridgeway.

"One thing that we feel we need to plan for is the health department, state and local, have very broad authority when it comes to quarantines, isolation orders, and other things that protect the spread of illness."

And, in the case of a viral outbreak here, those who are sick will be ordered to be confined to their homes or a medical facility. If they do not comply, they'll face only a misdemeanor charge but one with teeth.

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"A person who is arrested for a misdemeanor violation of a quarantine order can actually be held without the opportunity to post a bond which is pretty unusual under our system of law," Ridgeway said from behind his desk on the 10th floor of the Wake County Justice Center. "But you can see that it makes sense where if someone just posted bond they could go back out and continue to potentially infect other people."

And when that person is due in court for a hearing thanks to the state-of-the-art technology at the Justice Center - one of the most modern courthouses in the state - they won't have to be brought into the courthouse.

Each courtroom is fully wired including closed-circuit television cameras and monitors.

"We've certainly thought about remote hearings, video conferencing, things of that sort that we can put in place if need be," Ridgeway said.

Back when he first became a judge the then-state supreme court chief justice put an emergency pandemic plan in place while the SARS outbreak was raging.

It never had to be used but the decade-old plan is coming in handy according to Ridgeway who said it only needed tweaking.

"We were fortunate that we've had a plan in place and so we've simply been updating the plan that we have in place to make sure that we've thought through exactly how the operations of now a new, modern courthouse will operate in a time of emergency. So we didn't start from zero and that's a good thing."
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