Monday, June 1, 2015

New Judicial Courts For Collin County

The backlog of cases at the Collin County Courthouse may begin to ease with a bill creating three new courts for the county sent to Gov. Abbotts's desk for his signature, today, the last day of the 84th Texas Legislature.

After months of discussion, Collin County commissioners voted last February to ask that the state Legislature add two new Family District Courts and one new County Court at Law. The last time Collin County added a district judge was in 2009.

SB 1139, passed in the closing days of the 2015 legislative session, newly creates the 469th and 470th Judicial District Courts to hear family law matters for Collin County. SB 1139 also adds County Court at Law No. 7. to the current list of County Court numbers 1-6.  The 469th and 470th District Courts are added to the current list District courts in Collin County:
  • 199th District Court, Judge Angela Tucker
  • 219th District Court, Judge Scott J. Becker
  • 296th District Court, Judge John Roach, Jr.
  • 366th District Court, Judge Ray Wheless
  • 380th District Court, Judge Benjamin N. Smith
  • 401st District Court, Judge Mark Rusch
  • 416th District Court, Judge Chris Oldner
  • 417th District Court, Judge Cynthia Wheless
  • 429th District Court, Judge Jill Willis
The three new courts will be created on September 1, 2015, the start of Texas' fiscal year. Temporary Judges will initially be appointed to the new courts, with judges elected to a full of office during the 2016 election cycles. These ballot positions will be added to the other elected offices that will appear on 2016 Collin County Primary and General Election ballots.

The state pays the majority of the salary and benefits for district judges. The cost for county court at law judges comes out of the county budget. Each new court judge needs a court coordinator, bailiff, court reporter and staff in the clerk’s office, plus some increase of prosecutors and investigators in the district attorney’s office. County officials have estimate the cost to create a new District Court is about $1 million, with a continuing annual costs are about $775,000. A new County Court at Law has an estimated start-up cost of about $1.4 million, with continuing annual costs of nearly $1 million.

Many lawyers and judges who handle cases across Collin County's system of courts are unanimous in their view additionally courts have been needed for some time. The county's rapid population growth cite has greatly increased the caseload of judges, causing increasing delays in hearing in some cases, particularly in family law.

The number of corporations moving their headquarters, and many thousands of employees, to Collin County will further increase the case load across all the courts.  Among the largest corporations moving to Plano are FedEx, State Farm, Liberty Mutual, and Toyota.

Texas counties with higher population numbers have separate district courts to handle criminal and civil cases. All nine of Collin County’s current district courts are general jurisdiction, meaning judges are authorized to hear both civil and criminal cases. State law requires that criminal cases be heard first, so civil cases, in particular family law cases, are seeing the most backlog in Collin County’s district courts.

Attorneys handling contested divorces, for example, need to go before a judge for temporary orders that set the ground rules while the case is pending. Hearing for temporary orders deal with the the most critical immediate issues of most divorces: who gets the kids, who gets the house, who pays the bills. The delay in Collin County for temporary hearings can now be as long as  two to three months.

Family law attorney Brian Loughmiller, who is also McKinney’s mayor, told the county commissioner's court in February the complexity of corporate business cases heard in Collin County courts is also increasing. “We’re dealing with executives at corporations, stock options, 401(k) plans; you’re talking sometimes of division of limited partnerships.”

SB 1139 also creates new courts for other texas counties.

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