By Sahar Chmais
Felony and misdemeanor cases have been piling up for about 1.5 years, and it could take one year to go through these cases, said Criminal District Attorney Wes Mau. A Texas House Bill could help with the backlog, but it will not take effect until Sept. 1, 2022.
“Because Hays is one of the fastest-growing counties in Texas and its courts face increasingly heavy caseloads, local officials requested a new district court,” said State Senator Judith Zaffirini (D).
The omnibus HB 3774, passed on June 18, will add a new district court in Hays County to aid in the backlog of court cases. The increase of backlog has been an issue in the making before COVID-19, due to the county’s exponential growth; the pandemic only made the need for courts more dire. As of last week, there were 247 felony cases awaiting trial and 275 on the misdemeanor docket, said Mau.
This load does not include felony and misdemeanor cases on the dockets.
Hays County has two district courts that are strictly for the county and three other courts that have visiting judges who oversee other counties, such as Caldwell, Guadalupe and more.
“Justifying the need with comparative data collected statewide,” Zaffirini told the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch, “Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, and I worked with Office of Court Administration personnel and the authors of our omnibus courts bill – namely, Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston – to create this new court.”
District judges receive their salaries through the state, but other operating expenses, such as the court reporter and other staff members, are paid by the county. There is a potential that courts would share some staff members, Mau added.
This is only the first step for the county; over the year, more details will be configured. More positions may be added and Mau said he will be requesting additional prosecutor staff.
In the meantime, specialty courts are being set up so residents have extra judicial resources.
“I am delighted Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3774,” Zaffrini added, “especially because it will enhance access to justice for Hays County residents.”