Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.

7/27/2021

Response to Commissioner Russ Boles statements in Commissioners Court July 27

I am concerned with some of the comments made by Russ Boles this morning in Commissioner’s Court. I have been working from home, which was made possible by the Office of Court Administration and Texas Supreme Court rulings, as has the bulk of my staff. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s new emergency orders state:

‘[This order] continues the authority of all courts to modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures for a stated period ending no later than October 1, except as noted below (the Court’s order indicated that this is intended to be the last order permitting suspension of procedures and deadlines, except in justice/municipal courts where the suspension is intended to extend until 1/1/22)’

Commissioner Boles has not once contacted or met with me or any of my staff regarding any complaints he has heard.

My court was made to seem mismanaged and overstaffed today. This could not be further from the truth. We have worked remotely and virtually since March 2020. HOW we’re doing court has changed, but WHAT we are doing has not changed. We continue to have normal court proceedings multiple times per week. Staff is available by phone and email. In addition, I am reachable as well via Facebook, phone, and email.

We were hoping to open our lobby to the public in August, but we have had to postpone those plans indefinitely due to the continued uncontrolled community spread of COVID-19 across Williamson County. A large part of why my court remains closed to the public lies in the physical limitations of the court building. My lobby is small and cannot accommodate the safe social distancing of more than 2-3 people at a time. The building is also settling unevenly, causing multiple façade and roof leaks. We have been offered a new court building in Hutto in a complex owned by the county. Commissioner Bole’s office was previously in this building and signage still indicates his office is there, although it has moved. Remodeling of existing office space to create a courtroom, jury room, and waiting/window area and finishing out of another section of the building for staff offices is required before we can move. The current estimate for move-in is February 2022 even though the Commissioner’s Court has had this remodel under review for at least 6 months.

Likewise, the data provided to the Williamson County Commissioners Court and the OCA reports discussed in Commissioner’s Court on July 27 have not painted the full picture of our caseload and the work our staff has and continues to perform every day. Data were discussed without appropriate context.

Courts routinely carry cases over year after year until completion. However, the OCA does not require information on the age of the cases pending. On the criminal side, for instance, we had 2500 traffic cases pending since taking office on January 1, 2019. 1,691 of those are dated 2019 or older. We had 480 cases in 2021 and 329 in 2020. The vast majority of which were disposed of in a timely fashion.

The cases shown as pending in any year include older cases in which we have lost contact with the defendant and been unable to resolve or represent cases in which the defendant is making payments. Until final payment is made, cases are in pending status. Payment plans can at times take years for a defendant to complete. At no time for any criminal case, are we dismissing due to inability to pay or lack of a response. Cases will be closed but the charge will remain on the individual’s criminal history.

in 2019 we did cease and close just over 10,000 cases. Nearly 80% of those were toll road violation cases that a change in state law meant we no longer had reasonable cause to adjudicate. The remainder were outside of the statute of limitations, some of which were 15 years old. Closing a case in this manner is NOT the same as dismissal.

We also have a standing order that we will waive costs for anyone who genuinely cannot afford to pay their fine. Again, this is not a dismissal, merely a waiving of fines and the criminal charge remains.

We currently have 3074 pending civil cases, the majority of which (2912, over 94%) are debt claims cases. Cases are still considered pending either due to non-response from the parties or have been continued multiple times at the request of the plaintiff. In a debt claim case, this is common practice as the holder of the debt attempts to contact the defendant and/or work out a payment plan.

In short, though we may be doing the work of the court in a manner not easily seen, we are nevertheless doing the necessary work. Cases have been filed, heard, and adjudicated. Weddings have taken place and inquests handled. Even the DPS has worked with us to hear driver’s license dismissals in virtual court.

The work of the court continues and will proceed apace. No political grandstanding or deliberate misinterpretation of data changes that.

Constituents and concerned parties are always encouraged to email us at jp4@wilco.org or reach out to us here on Facebook with any comments or concerns regarding the Court.

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