New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - January 19, 2003, New Braunfels, Texas
Page 8A — Herald-Zeitung — Sunday, January 19, 2003
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WHAT IT DOES
Waldrip’s proposal would create the second county court as a mirror image of the first.
His legislation adds concurrent or shared jurisdiction with the district courts for:
■ Drug cases from misdemeanor through first-degree felony level, effectively giving the new courts “drug court” jurisdiction;
■ All state jail felony cases — the lowest level of felony offenses, punishable by fine and up to two years in state jail; and
■ Civil forfeiture cases and related proceedings.
The proposed legislation also would allow the county to appoint a magistrate to work at the jail if commissioners’ court chooses.
That magistrate would work at the pleasure of county commissioners and could be released once a new county court is established in 2004.
A number of other counties facing growth impacts even less severe than those here have established second county courts to deal with them.
Most are larger than Comal County, although a few are smaller, in terms of population.
Stan Reid, director of the County Information Project with the Tbxas Association of Counties, said that population was not the only — or even the most important — thing to consider for comparison purposes.
' “You want counties that have similar pressures to Comal County — that have similar population densities, a similar taxable value and are impacted by nearby met-* ropolitan areas.
Two counties that fit that bill, he said, also happen to be neighboring counties — Hays
County, population 97,589, and Guadalupe County, population 89,023.
Both have opened a second County Court-at-Law. *
Two other counties that experience growth pressure similar to Comal County, Reid said, are the panhandle counties of Potter and Randall, which are dealing with the sprawl of Amarillo.
Potter County, population 113,546, which includes what was Amarillo’s traditional downtown, has two county courts while Randall County, population 104,312 — until very recently only a bedroom community for Amarillo — has one.
That will probably change soon, officials in Potter and Randall counties say.
Like Chapman in New Braunfels, Pamela Sirmon, judge in Potter County’s County Court-at-Law 2, was recently elected to her second term in office.
Potter County created its second county court in 1975 to relieve caseload and county jail overcrowding problems.
In Potter County, the next issue will be evening the workload.
“One of the things we’re considering is growing the jurisdiction of the county court-at-law. We do misdemeanors and civil cases through $100,000. The needs area we have is that a $100,000 lawsuit isn’t a big one anymore. People are suing each other in small claims court for $5,000 now. I remember when it was $1,000,” Sirmon said.
“With the changes in criminal law and magistrations, I would like to see county Court-at-Law get felony jurisdiction and relieve some of that, as well.”
Sirmon said Randall
County, directly south of Amarillo, had been looking
at establishing a second county court for several years.
“What you have to look at is the counties are growing. You have to accommodate the workload that comes with that. As your population grows, the workload grows,” Sirmon said. “Randall County is growing like wildfire.”
Judy Evans is coordinator in Randall County Court-at-Law.
“We’ve been looking at it. A couple of years ago, we really delved into it, but we had a rollback election, and we had to put a hiatus to it,” Evans said.
Now, she said, Randall’s county judge and county court-at-law judge are looking at it again to alleviate a crowded docket.
"We’re big enough to have it, but we don’t have enough money. We may in a couple years or so,” Evans said.
There has been a second county court-at-law in Hays County since 1986. It was established by the legislature as a part-time court to alleviate dockets that were becoming more crowded as a result of harsher penalties in new drunken driving laws.
Howard S. Warner II is the judge in Hays County Court-at-Law 2.
“The caseload had blossomed to where there was a need. In 1984, the legislature revamped the DW’I laws. By 1985, ’86, an awful lot of those new cases were coming up for trial. We got way behind in a hurry and we needed an additional judge to assist trying cases,” Warner said.
Between 50 and 60 percent of Warner’s caseload is criminal, he said. Two county courts, he said, will fulfil
the needs of Hays County for awhile yet.
“Our system has worked out well,” Warner said.
Frank Follis was a prosecutor who worked for Guadalupe County’s wellknown “Maximum Bob” Covington, the former district attorney.
Follis ran in 2002 for — and received — the Republican nomination to be his county’s first judge in the newly formed county Court-at-Law 2.
“It was authorized in the last legislative session,” Follis said.
He had to hit the ground running after he was sworn in Jan. I, Follis said. He empanelled two juries in his first week.
“This is a growing county like Comal County. One county court-at-law has been here forever, and the population is growing considerably,” Follis said.
Follis’s court has the same criminal, juvenile, family, civil and probate powers of many county courts.
But the county’s criminal misdemeanor cases, he said, will be 80 percent of his workload.
“I’ll work four days a week on criminal cases and one day on civil and family cases,” Follis said.
“The growth of both of our counties has been astronomical and with it comes that percentage of people who don’t obey the law ...”
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Dewhurst said Wentworth brings a wealth of experience in government to his leadership position.
“His background and expertise will be particularly critical as we balance the budget and address other significant challenges this legislative session. I look forward to working with him.”
Wentworth said the Infrastructure Development and Security Committee also is a new committee and an important
“Nothing is more important than the security of Texans,” Wentworth said. ‘The Infrastructure Development and Security Committee will allow me to work on this issue as well as on our state’s pressing transportation needs.”
The Texas Senate will operate with 15 committees, two more than during the last term.
Nine committees will be headed by Republicans and six will be led by Democrats.
Wentworth wins lottery, sort of
AUSTIN — State Senator Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, won the lottery this past week in Austin.
He will not have to run for re-election until 2006.
The entire State Senate is up for reelection immediately following each redistricting. Then, they conduct a lottery to determine which will serve two-year terms and which will serve four-
The system ensures that about half of the Sta te Senate is on the election block every two years.
Wentworth lucked out this time.
Because of redistricting ordered in the 1990s, Wentworth has served three two-year terms and one four year term during IO years in the State Senate.
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