The Montgomery County commissioners began talks to add two more courts at law to lower the average number of cases seen per court during a Jan. 12 meeting.
According to Chad Peace, Montgomery County Office of Court Administration director, the last county court at law was created in 2007.
“Since that time, annual case filings have risen 26.2% and the population has increased 32.4%, or 177,000 people,” Peace said.
Peace presented demographic information comparing Montgomery County to its four surrounding counties of Denton, Fort Bend, Williamson and Cameron. Despite having a lower population than Denton and Fort Bend counties, Montgomery county’s case count is second only to Denton.
“We had 17,381 [cases], that is second only to Denton County, who had 18,262 ... for fiscal year 2019,” Peace said. “This count also includes our probate, mental health, juvenile and family cases.”
Peace added Denton County currently has eight courts at law, compared to Montgomery County’s five, which allows it to better distribute cases and average 2,283 cases per court. Each Montgomery County court averages 3,476 cases.
“Montgomery County is at a higher average of 1,200 to 1,400,” Peace said. “If we add two courts at law, Montgomery County would be at 2,483 cases per [court]. It would bring us a lot closer to Denton County. This recommended option would provide both relief to our [county courts at law] and also prepares us for our continued growth trends that we see here in Montgomery County.”
Peace noted the creation of new courts is not immediate, as a new court has to be approved by the Texas Legislature, which began Jan. 12.
If approved, it would be created in September, and funding for the court would begin as early as September or as late as January 2023 if the commissioners appoint a judge to see cases.
Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough questioned where the new courts would go if approved and stated there is no room for them.
County Court at Law 2 Judge Claudia Laird said at this time the old Child Protective Services court, which acts as an overflow court and where the Commissioners Court used to meet, could act as a space for the new court if approved.
“As for the second court, I do not know where you would put it,” Laird said. “I think this lets itself to a larger conversation we have been having with you about the inadequacies of the courthouse complex for growth, space and security.”
The commissioners unanimously voted to defer a decision for the time being to continue speaking with judges to get more information. The issue is anticipated to be discussed at the next Commissioners Court meeting Jan. 26.