Montgomery County judges request new court

Caseloads in Montgomery County district courts have been increasing faster than the population boom, causing local judges to ask the state Legislature for a new district court.

Caseloads in Montgomery County district courts have been increasing faster than the population boom, causing local judges to ask the state Legislature for a new district court.

[gallery ids="389231,389233,389234"]

Under pressure from a vast caseload increase, the Montgomery County board of judges is asking the state Legislature for an additional district court.

Annual caseloads in county district courts have risen by 10,746 cases since 2008—a 41.3 percent increase, compared to the 32.4 percent population growth over the same time period, according to the board of judges’ court documents presented to the Montgomery County Commissioners Court on
Nov. 20. The last time a new court was created by the Legislature in Montgomery County was in 2007.

State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, filed House Bill 1437 on Feb. 6 requesting a new district court. The bill was referred to the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee in late February. Identical bills filed in the House and Senate in mid-February relating to the operations of the state court system also reference the creation of a new Montgomery County district court.

Nate Jensen, director of court administration for Montgomery County, said the caseload increase has been seen across criminal, civil and family cases. With the county jail spending $50 a day per inmate and with many cases using public defenders, the overburdened system is a drag on taxpayer funds, according to the documents.

The Texas Supreme Court standard dictates all civil jury cases be disposed within 18 months and all nonjury cases within one year. Currently, 20 percent of civil cases take longer than a year to be resolved, and only 1 percent of civil cases are jury trials in Montgomery County, according to the board of judges.

Jensen said a host of local socio-economic and demographic factors contribute to the caseload increase, such as higher marriage rates, which translate to higher divorce rates compared to other places seeing a cohabitation trend in which splitting up does not require legal action.

“As one [judge] who does all felony cases, I can tell you my dockets are packed,” Judge Kathleen Hamilton of the 359th District Court said at the Nov. 20 meeting.

Hamilton said felony cases have increased because police departments countywide have increased their staff and are arresting more people.

“It’s very clear from the recommendations ... that break down the data for how much caseload warrants how many different courts in different jurisdictions, and that recommendation came back to us at Montgomery County needing two [new] courts, and even under some information three [new] courts,” said Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. “We’re going to move forward through our office supporting adding one [district court].”

Caseloads and courts

On Nov. 20, Judge Tracy Gilbert of the 418th District Court, who is spearheading the new district court request, said the backlog cannot be solved by adding associate judges or part-time jobs.

Compared to the average caseload per district of the five-county cohort—Denton, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Williamson and Cameron, which are similar in population size—Montgomery County’s caseload is 37.8 percent higher in civil cases, 48.4 percent higher in family cases and 40.6 percent higher in felony cases.

The Commissioners Court voted 4-1 to support the request for a new district court Nov. 20 and voted unanimously in support Feb. 12.

If the Legislature approves the bill, the earliest a new court could manifest is summer 2020 due to fiscal year funding timelines.

“We absolutely need [a new court],” Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough said.

The county is responsible for staff and stipends, and the state pays district judges. The courtroom space and offices are already built and available.

Veterans, specialty courts

Before requesting a new court, the judges reorganized their dockets in 2012 to consolidate case types so they could work with consistent attorney teams. They also created specialty courts, which help people access court-ordered treatment instead of going to the county jail, which was at 95-97 percent capacity in 2012.

Since the changes were made, the jail population has not surpassed 78 percent capacity since 2016,
Jensen said.

One specialty court in the county is the Veterans Treatment Court, created to help veterans convicted of felonies or misdemeanors caused by mental health trauma suffered at war to receive court-ordered treatment to improve mental health recovery instead of jail time.

Montgomery County maintains a 20-24 percent veteran population in its jail—double the national average of 10 percent, according to Tri-County Behavioral Healthcare. To address the problem, the county redirects post-traumatic stress disorder survivors through its Veterans Treatment Court and the veteran’s pod in the jail, which helps with  resources and services.

“The veterans court shows real compassion and creativity in helping our veterans navigate the criminal justice system,” said U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Conroe. “This system is one that could be duplicated in other parts of the state to help ensure our veterans receive the help they need re-entering



Hewlett Packard Enterprise
Hewlett Packard Enterprise to relocate headquarters from Silicon Valley to Springwoods Village

Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced Dec. 1 plans to relocate its headquarters from San Jose, California to a brand new campus in the Greater Houston area, which is under construction in CityPlace at Springwoods Village.

CCEMS provides emergency medical services for approximately 177 square miles of North Harris County. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Judge rules Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 can no longer withhold payments from Cypress Creek EMS

The ESD No. 11 board voted to terminate its contract with CCEMS on Sept. 3 after a long history of disagreements over the two entities’ 16-year relationship.

Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital is undergoing an expansion. (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Work on $250M Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital expansion continues, completion expected in 2022

The new patient tower at Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital will include for 100 more beds.

To support this initiative, community members are encouraged to visit NAM's Blessing Tree, located at 15555 Kuykendahl Road, Houston, where they can choose a child's name and shop specifically for that child. (Courtesy Northwest Assistance Ministries)
Northwest Assistance Ministries in need of donations to support biggest Season of Blessings campaign in nonprofit's history

Northwest Assistance Ministries is in need of toys, food and monetary donations to provide meals to more than 1,700 families and toys to more than 5,300 children this holiday season. By comparison, the nonprofit provided meals for 994 families and toys for 1,773 children in 2019.

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.

(Courtesy Press Waffle Co.)
Press Waffle Co. set to open in The Woodlands on Dec. 4

The restaurant features sweet and savory waffles, gourmet milkshakes, and coffee and espresso drinks.

(Courtesy Shake Shack)
The Woodlands area welcomes 3 new dining locations in November with 4th coming soon

Three new dining locations opened around The Woodlands in November, with a fourth coming soon.

Community Impact Newspaper uses data from the Montgomery County Public Health District for weekly case counts. (Community Impact Newspaper)
Active COVID-19 cases in Montgomery County rise 34% over Thanksgiving week from Nov. 23-30

Active cases increased from 2,513 to 3,365; recoveries grew from 10,655 to 11,019; and the death toll has remained the same at 169.

The Montgomery County commissioners discussed reimbursement payments to various entities for coronavirus expenditures. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Montgomery County Commissioners defer CARES Act reimbursements a week

The requested amounts to the counties are for expenses incurred due to the coronavirus.

Howard Hughes
Howard Hughes Corp. announces plans for remaining commercial development in The Woodlands

The last 700 acres of commercial property to be developed in The Woodlands are located mainly in Town Center or on the periphery of the township, according to The Howard Hughes Corp.

Dozens of clinics throughout the county offer COVID-19 testing services. (William C. Wadsack/Community Impact Newspaper)
COVID-19 testing locations remain open in Montgomery County and more local news

Read the latest Houston-area business and community news.