'Mega-dockets' clear case clutter

Judge and county attorney aim to reduce system backlog

In a typical week, Williamson County's Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 court in Georgetown may process about 30 Class C misdemeanor cases.

However, Justice of the Peace Bill Gravell Jr. and County Attorney Dee Hobbs implemented "Mega-docket" Fridays for April and May this year to help alleviate the backlog of cases in the court's system, Gravell said.

"In 2012 there were 20,343 cases filed in our court," Gravell said in an email. "Because of the volume of court business that must be dealt with each week, we have created a Mega-docket for each Friday [and some Thursdays] during the months of April and May."

More than 200 cases may come before the justice of the peace on Mega-docket days, and additional state prosecutors are present to help reach plea bargains with the defendants.

As of mid-April, Gravell said he considered the Mega-docket tactic successful.

On April 5, the court saw 245 cases. On April 12, attorney cases were scheduled, and about 175 cases made it through the court. By the end of April, about 1,250 cases had been cleared through Mega-docket efforts, Gravell estimated.

"Normally, due to resources, [the courts] only have one prosecutor," Hobbs said. "Every time [the prosecutors] stop to take care of something [to check the law or make a phone call], it can stop the whole docket."

Gravell said he hopes to clear 2,000 cases from the court's records by the end of May.

"I've gotten three or four [positive] emails in response to our customer service," Gravell said. "Under the law, you have the right to a speedy trial. People are getting into court. They want to be heard."

Many of the cases that reach the court are traffic-related because of high numbers of drivers traveling through the county on I-35, Hwy. 195 and SH 130, Gravell said.

"In JP Court 3, we get a lot of traffic citations," he said. "[The Department of Public Safety] has 22 troopers in Williamson County, and their citations go here."

Attorneys also approve of the Mega-docket days.

Dario Bargas, founding attorney at Bargas Law Firm headquartered in Austin, was representing a client at the attorney Mega-docket on April 12.

"I think overall, they're a good thing," he said. "The county attorney may be more generous with offers today. They're looking at a lot of older cases. Mine is about a year old, and I understand there are a lot older than that."

As the court has adjusted to Mega-dockets, prosecutors have gotten faster at processing cases, Gravell said.

On April 18, two prosecutors processed 101 cases on the docket before 11 a.m.

"We're progressing really well," Gravell said. "It's much better now because we've had a few weeks to practice it."

At the end of May, Gravell said he would speak with Hobbs and Precinct 3 Constable Kevin Stofle to discuss the future of the program. Gravell said he hopes to have two to three Mega-docket days per quarter.

"Until we get ample staffing resources, we're never going to keep up," he said.



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