Senate Bill 891, an omnibus bill for courts across the state that included state Rep. Steve Toth’s, R-The Woodlands, House Bill 1437 to institute the 457th Judicial District Court for Montgomery County, was signed in the House and Senate on May 27 and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott June 10.
Nate Jensen, the director of court administration for Montgomery County, said the timeline for when the court could be created is still dependent on a few factors, because it would be on the 2020 ballot.
“Depending on the circumstances, the governor may choose to appoint the winner of the Republican primary runoff,” Jensen said. “If there is a Democrat in the race, the governor may wait until after the November 2020 general election, but there is not a requirement to do so. If the governor appoints after the runoff, we could have a judge by July 2020.”
Planning for that scenario, Jensen said he filed a budget request for three months of court funding for staff and supplies for July through September 2020.
“[With a new court] civil cases specifically will be able to proceed to disposition in a much more efficient manner with an appropriate amount of judicial attention,” Jensen said.
Currently, Montgomery County has one court handling civil cases full time, one court handling half civil and half family cases, and one court handling civil cases 25% of the time and filling the remainder of its docket with probate and mental health cases.
Jensen said the courts employ 1.75 full-time judicial employee shifts to hear civil cases, but needs 3.5 full-time shifts, according to workforce studies.
“By adding a new court dedicated entirely to civil, we come much closer to bridging that gap,” Jensen said. “Additionally, with the new district court we are able to keep judges currently handling criminal and family [cases] where they are vitally needed.”
Jensen said Montgomery County has a true need for three additional courts, but wanted to adopt a measured approach that responsibly uses public funds and relies on best-case management practices.