Montgomery County commissioners OK budget for 457th district court; judge candidates disagree on how to run court

Montgomery County commissioners met June 23 in Conroe. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery County commissioners met June 23 in Conroe. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Montgomery County commissioners met June 23 in Conroe. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Updated 9:40 p.m. June 3: This article incorrectly quoted Vince Santini as saying "12,000 to 15,000 cases." It has been fixed to say "1,200 to 1,500."

A newly adopted court budget has highlighted the difference in opinion between the two Republican candidates for Montgomery County’s 457th Judicial District Court judge.

According to candidate Eric Yollick, a court can be effectively run on tight budget, but opponent Vince Santini said slashing positions will lead to less efficiency.

On June 23, county commissioners approved a proposed budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2019-20 for the new 457th Judicial District Court, which was created to help reduce the county’s backlog of cases.

The proposed budget totals $131,560 and includes positions for a court administrator, two court coordinators, a research attorney and a court attorney. The budget also allocates $15,000 for office furniture and supplies.

The budget is modeled after the county’s 284th district court budget. The future judge will have the ability to ultimately decide if all the proposed funds in the budget will be used or if all the staff will be hired.

Yollick and Santini, the two Republican candidates, will face each other in a runoff election July 14. Although Marc M. Meyer, the chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, is running unopposed on the Democratic primary ticket, Gov. Greg Abbott may appoint the winner of the Republican primary as the court's first judge.

Prior to the vote, Yollick addressed the commissioners, asking them to rethink allocating that amount of money for the new court.

Yollick presented his own proposed budget to commissioners, which had a total budget of $65,022, lower salaries for staff, fewer staff personnel and less money allocated for supplies.

“This court does not need two court coordinators. It needs a court administrator probably, and it needs a court coordinator,” Yollick said. “As far as a research attorney, an experienced attorney who is sitting as the judge of the 457th district court especially under today’s circumstances should not require a research attorney.”

Yollick said modern resources allow research to be conducted very quickly.

Other items that were also reduced were funds for travel, printing and equipment.

“With respect to office furniture and supplies, I think $3,000 is sufficient,” he added.

But in a follow-up interview, Santini said cutting budgets and positions would reduce the efficiency of the 457th court, thereby defeating the purpose it was designed for.

“This court was created for judicial efficiency, to move these dockets that are growing so large in Montgomery County,” he said. “You can’t cut the budget so much that there’s a delay in justice.”

Santini also said research attorneys—who read up on cases and provide briefings to judges—are critical to help efficiently move cases. According to Judge Tracy Gilbert of the 418th state District Court, 1,500 pending civil cases with set trials will be immediately transferred over to the 457th court whenever the new judge is sworn in.

“You can’t [read all the motions] with 1,200, 1,500 cases, presiding over all the hearings, making rulings, presiding over trials, answering phone calls, setting up scheduling; the staff is crucial to the court's success,” Santini said.

Santini also pointed out the new court is currently empty and will need new supplies such as computers.

“You don’t want to spend lavishly; you want to be responsible, but you have to balance that with running an efficient courtroom,” he said. “No one is requesting 3D television. ... No one is spending lavishly; we are being cost efficient.

After hearing a presentation by Gilbert, commissioners ultimately approved the original proposed budget, noting the future judge will have the ability to spend less than what is allocated.
By Eva Vigh
Eva Vigh joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2018 as a reporter for Spring and Klein. Prior to this position, she covered upstream oil and gas news for a drilling contractors' association.


The show is making a stop at Sam Houston Race Park this December. (Courtesy UniverSoul Circus)
Cy-Fair hosts events and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Montgomery County COVID-19 updates
Active COVID-19 cases double in Montgomery County since Nov. 17

Since Monday, active cases countywide have risen 13.1%, while four more deaths have been reported.

Snacktime Express sells over 40 flavors of gourmet popcorn. (Courtesy Snacktime Express)
Gourmet Popcorn store Snacktime Express opens in Montgomery

Snacktime Express makes 40 different flavors of popcorn, including watermelon, dill pickle, bacon-wrapped jalapeno and chocolate peanut butter.

Angelica Espinoza's balloon work is used for events, parties and celebrations. (Courtesy A.L. Party Creations)
Balloon business A.L. Party Creations coming to Conroe

A.L. Party Creations will have a balloon bar that offers bouquets for pickup or delivery.

The Woodlands Township board of directors met at the township building Dec. 2. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)
COVID-19 patients in more than 15% of Montgomery County hospital beds; free testing seeing demand in The Woodlands

The percentage of COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds in Montgomery County was more than 15% in early December.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Dec. 2 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has allotted 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to the state of Texas. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
First allotment of COVID-19 vaccinations expected to arrive in Texas in mid-December

About 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been allotted to the state of Texas and will arrive the week of Dec. 14.

The East Montgomery County Industrial Park off Gene Campbell Road will welcome the Lowe's Distribution Center in July. (Courtesy East Montgomery County Improvement District)
Lowe's to bring 200 jobs to Montgomery County and more Houston-area news

Read the latest Houston-area business and community news.

Harris County has launched a tool to allow homeowners to identify appraisal activity in their neighborhood. (Courtesy Pexels)
Harris County Appraisal District launches new 'Appraiser Field Operations Map' tool

Harris County has launched a tool to allow homeowners to identify appraisal activity in their neighborhood.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has launched a campaign to address declining college enrollment numbers across the state since the pandemic started. (Courtesy Pexels)
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board launches campaign to boost college enrollment

The decline in college enrollment across the state of Texas has prompted several agencies to partner up and create online resources for students and counselors.

The gym is slated to open in January. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Women-only strength, endurance training gym coming to Montgomery

"I understand being depressed, lonely [and] hating what you see in the mirror, but exercise can help immensely," owner and trainer Kelly Diller said.