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

8/11/2021

Commissioner's Court 8/10/21

Recently, at (yet another) Commissioners Court meeting, my office came under verbal attack by Commissioner Boles and County Judge Gravell. Once again, the facts were ignored in the name of political grandstanding and quick soundbites. Once again, I must correct the record and let the people know the truth.

Commissioner Boles said that I have not presided over a trial since March 2019. That is a lie. My last criminal trial was in November 2019, and my last civil trial was in March 2020. Due to the ongoing pandemic which started in March 2020, I paused criminal jury trials out of concern for the safety of our staff, plaintiffs, defendants, and prospective jurors. Our courthouse is too small to allow social distancing adequately and safely. Additionally, the County Attorney’s office reluctance to hold these trials in a virtual setting has caused even more delay. There are 54 criminal cases ready to be set for trial including 35 Bench Trials, 13 Jury Trials, and 6 to be determined. 19 of those criminal cases are for one defendant and we are still working on getting those cases consolidated. Bench trials will be set for virtual hearing and we have 3 eviction jury trials set for August 13 and another for August 17 using facilities at the Precinct 3 annex. Their much larger space allows for safe social distancing, and we will require mask wearing by all participants. Criminal jury trials are still on hold while the County remains at Orange or Red Phase.

COVID-19 pause notwithstanding, we have show cause every week and pre-trials regularly, all virtual.

The numbers Commissioner Boles and Judge Gravell so frequently quote out of context come from the reports we and every other Justice of the Peace in Texas send to the Office of Court Administration (OCA) every month. The OCA report lists the number of cases on our criminal and civil dockets, whether they are active or inactive, how the case was resolved and by which mechanism, how many of those cases were appealed, and how many cases are pending. This report is important because it shows how our staff and I handle cases and gives us an idea of how many hearings to schedule in a certain time period. Even so, it shows only a fraction of what my staff does every day to ensure the continued smooth functioning of the court.

Judge Gravell brought up that our OCA reports were late, a particular pet peeve of his.

Why were they late? Before my term in office, the former justice of the peace for Precinct 4, Judge Hobbs, refused time and time again to switch JP4’s case system to Odyssey, which was in use by every other department in Williamson County, favoring the older Edoc system.

Judge Gravell, taking office at the same time I did, mandated that our office switch to Odyssey to be more compatible with the rest of the County, which we did happily and eagerly. With support from the county, our transition to Odyssey started in March 2019 with training and file preparation. But switching to a new system takes time. This process took us 9 months. Whenever using an automatic file conversion from an old system to a new, there are conversion errors. These errors were common and expected, as transferring the data from events in 64, 968 files was not a one-to-one process. Cleaning up the data, going into every file looking for errors and fixing them, we prioritized accuracy over speed. Some of these cases with errors were nearly 30 years old and practically incomprehensible to current staff.

Given our relatively recent transition to Odyssey—the other County departments have been using it for years, with much more time dedicated to training—and the state of the office we inherited from Judge Hobbs, OCA staff, building on the friendly professional relationship we nurtured with them, expected that we would need more time than is customary to allow to compile accurate reports. Accuracy, not timeliness, was the key factor.

That said, with dedicated staff effort every day, we finished correcting errant data in April 2021, with a recent recheck in July of this year, have since caught up to the current day, and do not expect to need to submit any future OCA report late.

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