A San Marcos-area criminal attorney has been selected to helm the newly created Hays County Court-at-Law No. 3 seat.
Tacie Marie Zelhart, an attorney who has been practicing criminal law for over 16 years, was appointed to the seat by Hays County Commissioners Oct. 30. Zelhart was selected out of a field of nine applicants, which was later narrowed down to three finalists by county officials.
Commissioners said all candidates were highly qualified, but eventually all agreed on Zelhart after weeks spent narrowing the pool.
“I think we need to get this judge elected as soon as possible and in place so that we can go to work for the citizens of Hays County and help our justice system to continue to grow,” said Lon Shell, Hays County Pct. 3 commissioner.
County officials have sought to improve its justice system, which has been operating slowly due to an increased volume in recent years.
County commissioners have been working to address the slow justice system through various means, including the addition of a new district court, a new county court and an addition to the existing jail to allow for more inmates, as wait time has increased. State officials approved the creation of the third county court-at-law position during the 85th Legislative session in 2017.
The Office of General Counsel coordinated the application process beginning in early August. General Counsel Mark Kennedy said he and his office modeled the application after what is used by the Texas Governor’s office. Kennedy said each applicant met the minimum requirements, and was interviewed twice. One of those interviews involved meeting with two county commissioners at one time.
“There’s still decisions to be made by the judges together,” Kennedy said. “The judges need to make their dockets, but the addition of the new judge will allow for a wider array of coverage.”
Hays County Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones said he’s known Zelhart for at least eight years, and believes she’s the best pick due to her history of work within Hays County. Jones said Zelhart has experience as an attorney in both criminal and civil law, she operated her own legal practice and she worked in the Hays County District Attorney’s office.
“I think she has a solid background in our county,” Jones said. “So, I’m looking forward to seeing her get to work.”
Jones said it is likely that when the county’s court judges prepare their dockets, Zelhart will be taking on most cases concerning criminal and civil disputes on mental health in the county.
During the appointment process, the commissioners unanimously voted for Zelhart. However, Hays County Pct. 4 commissioner Ray Whisenant motioned for another candidate, but the motion lacked a second and died on the dais.
Zelhart will begin operations Jan. 1, 2019.