Williamson County approves $250,000 for visiting judge to handle increase in mental health cases

Williamson County Commissioners Court approved spending $250,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds Jan. 18 to address the backlog of mental health-related cases in the county. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)
Williamson County Commissioners Court approved spending $250,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds Jan. 18 to address the backlog of mental health-related cases in the county. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)

Williamson County Commissioners Court approved spending $250,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds Jan. 18 to address the backlog of mental health-related cases in the county. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)

To address an increase in mental health-related cases, Williamson County Commissioners Court unanimously approved spending up to $250,000 for a visiting judge during its Jan. 18 meeting.

The visiting master judge would be a contractual position with the county and work under the purview of Judge John B. McMaster in the County Court at Law No. 4, which handles civil mental health cases in the county.

The approved funding, which comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, would also cover expenses for a visiting court reporter, as needed, and information technology costs, Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey said.

According to county documents, Williamson County has seen an increase in mental health-related filings and proceedings since 2014 as two psychiatric hospitals have opened in the county since then. Additionally, county commissioners attributed some of the recent backlog to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

When compared to 2014, there was a 342% increase in applications for temporary mental health services in 2021 and an 875% increase in applications for forced medication, including those for inmates at the Williamson County Jail, according to county data. During the same timeframe, Williamson County saw a 109% increase in protective custody hearings and a 420% increase in final commitment hearings, county data shows.


These mental health cases were on top of McMaster’s normal docket of probate, civil and family cases, according to county documents. Due to the time-sensitive nature of mental health cases, county documents say McMaster often has to delay his normal docket to address mental health hearings in the time required by law.

“This would help [McMaster] get his regular docket addressed as well as not delaying the mental health issues that we have in the county,” Covey said.

County Judge Bill Gravell asked the court to be open to increasing the amount of money allocated to address the backlog if the $250,000 does not address the county’s needs.

“I think [McMaster] is trying to be really fiscally responsible while dealing with the tsunami—the backlog—that’s in front of him,” Gravell said.
By Claire Shoop

Reporter, Northwest Austin

Claire joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2019 as the reporter for the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition and in December 2021 moved to Austin to become the reporter for the Northwest Austin edition. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May 2019 where she studied journalism, government and Arabic. While in school, Claire was a fellow for The Texas Tribune, worked for the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, and spent a semester in Washington, D.C. She enjoys playing cards with her family and listening to the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.