But some of the spaces lack important courtroom features, such as a holding cell for criminal cases and sometimes even a ceiling.
In a nutshell
On Jan. 9, Fort Bend County Commissioner Court approved a $7 million project to add three additional courtrooms to the Justice Center in Richmond with the goal of curbing the county's growing court caseload.
Fort Bend County’s rising number of cases mirrors the county’s population, said 400th District Court Judge Tameika Carter, who also serves as administrative district judge.
Data shows the county's population grew more than 41% between the American Community Survey’s 2012 and 2022 five-year estimates. Officials predict the county's population will soon break 1 million, Carter said.Particularly, Carter said civil cases have increased, sparking a need of more courtrooms for associate judges and visiting associate judges to preside over cases.
“We didn’t have a designated courtroom to put them in, and so we’re having to borrow courtroom space; we email out and see what judge is not using the courtroom,” she said. “So it’s been past time for us to build out the other spaces that were designated in this building to be courtrooms.”
Fort Bend County's docket of civil cases—which can cover anything from business disputes, car accidents and personal injuries—has increased 12.4% since 2019, according to data from Texas' Office of Court Administration. Since criminal cases take priority, Carter said this can sometimes leave civil cases pending longer.While Carter said Fort Bend County isn’t fighting the same level of cases Harris County’s court system is, court staff want to ensure they are prepared to continue meeting the community’s needs.Why it matters
In the meantime, associate judges rotate to open meeting spaces; some family court cases are held in the Jury Assembly Room because no courtroom space is available for them, Carter said.
The ceiling is exposed in one of the makeshift courtrooms, as it wasn’t cost-effective to finish the ceiling in a temporary space, Carter said.
“When you come into court, you really should be in a courtroom—a room that's actually a courtroom,” she said. “So we've tried to improvise the best we can, but it's just time for us to actually complete the project.”Project details
Design for the $7 million project will begin in February and take four months to complete. Construction is set to begin this fall and be completed roughly by early summer 2025, county officials said.
Upon completion, the three new courtrooms will feature:
- A holdover cell for criminal cases where the client is in custody
- An office suite
- Courtroom technology
In addition to courtroom space, Carter said county staff hopes to add at least one new district court in the next several years, which would require Commissioners Court then state approval in the 2025 legislative session. The county last created a district court in 2015, bringing the county’s total to eight.
Fort Bend County’s larger neighbor, Harris County, was granted three additional courts in last year's legislative session. In November, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed three judges to serve on the felony courts, according to a news release from Abbott’s office.
If approved in the next session, the new judge would have space to preside over cases with the three new courtrooms, Carter said.
“If we don't have efficient run courts, if we don't have the court staff that we need, if we don't have the court space that we need, then we cannot move these cases through as quickly as we need to,” Carter said.