State grants more courts for boom­ing Travis, Hays coun­ties

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Tay­lor Gold­en­stein tgold­en­stein@states­man.com Con­tact Tay­lor Gold­en­stein at 512-445-3972.

As Travis and Hays coun­ties con­tinue along their su­per­sonic path of boom­ing pop­u­la­tion growth, more new res­i­dents mean more ar­rests, more tri­als and grow­ing court caseloads.

To lighten those caseloads, Gov. Greg Ab­bott signed Se­nate Bill 1329, passed in the reg­u­lar leg­isla­tive ses­sion, that will add new dis­trict courts in both coun­ties (none were added for Wil­liamson or Bas­trop coun­ties). The judges first will be ap­pointed by Ab­bott but elected in the next gen­eral elec­tion. The state cov­ers the judges’ salaries; the coun­ties pay for the op­er­at­ing and ad­min­is­tra­tive costs and other salaries.

Here’s a look at the need in each county:

Travis County

■ What it has now: 10 civil dis­trict courts and eight crim­i­nal courts.

■ What it’s get­ting: A civil court this Oc­to­ber and a crim­i­nal court in Oc­to­ber 2019.

■ About the need: The civil courts here have seen a 52 per­cent in­crease in ju­di­cial hear­ings since 2009. The last dis­trict court cre­ated for the civil and fam­ily cases in Travis County was in 2005.

On the crim­i­nal docket, judges note that vi­o­lent crime has in­creased 21 per­cent in the past five years. Th­ese charges tend to re­sult in more jury tri­als, judges have told county com­mis­sion­ers, and the pileup of cases can mean more in­mates hav­ing lengthy stays at the county jail while they’re await­ing trial.

The last crim­i­nal court added to Travis County was in 2013.

Hays County

■ What it has now: Four dis­trict courts han­dling­both civil and crim­i­nal cases.

■ What it’s get­ting: A court in Oc­to­ber 2018, likely han­dling a mix of cases.

■ About the need: The num­ber of pend­ing civil cases rose 37 per­cent from De­cem­ber 2011 (4,693 cases) to De­cem­ber 2016 (6,461 cases), Dis­trict Clerk Bev­erly Crum­ley said. Pend­ing crim­i­nal cases rose 15 per­cent in that same pe­riod, from 1,631 to 1,869 cases. The last dis­trict court was added in 2005.

Daniel E. Arre­dondo, of the San Mar­cos Po­lice Of­fi­cer’s As­so­ci­a­tion, said the growth has cre­ated back­logs and de­layed felony and mis­de­meanor cases from go­ing to trial on time.

“In a re­cent in­stance, a sex­ual as­sault case took al­most two years to go to trial,” Arre­dondo told Hays County com­mis­sion­ers in a Fe­bru­ary 2017 let­ter. “This slow process does not serve the vic­tims who are await­ing jus­tice, the of­fender who wants his day in court or the com­mu­nity ef­fi­ciently.”

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