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2013-03-07

Commissioners support district realignment

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Following their colleagues to north, Bandera County Commissioners unanimously supported the creation of a new judicial district and the realignment of Bandera County to the 198th Judicial District from the 216th Judicial District.
As reported in the Feb. 21 edition of the Bandera County Courier, on Monday, Feb. 11, Kerr County Commissioners, led by Judge Pat Tinley, approved a similar resolution to take to the Texas Legislature. The Kerr County resolution supported the realignment "to achieve more timely and effective disposition of cases in Kerr County."
According to Bandera County Judge Richard Evans, the five western and northern counties currently a part of the 198th district - Edwards, Kimble, McCulloch, Mason and Menard - would form separate judicial district. This would leave only Bandera and a portion of Kerr County in the 198th district.
Additionally, Edwards, Kimble, McCulloch, Mason and Menard counties have already passed formal resolutions of support.
Elected officials in those counties agree that a separate judicial district would better serve their constituents' needs. A rural judicial district would be more apt to accommodate limited court resources and provide effective judicial access for rural citizens.
The 216th Judicial District is currently comprised of Bandera, Gillespie and Kendall County, as well as a portion of Kerr County. "Judge (Keith) Williams has the highest case load of any district in Texas," Evans said during a commissioners court meeting on Thursday, Feb. 28. "Currently, court is only held once a month. If we become a part of the 198th, we'll get twice as much attention from the DA and judge." In addition, district court would convene twice a month.
District Attorney for the 198th Judicial District is Scott Monroe of Kerrville with Melvin "Rex" Emerson serving as district judge.
"There will be some additional costs," Evans told the court, adding that although no finite costs had been calculated as yet, he anticipated the costs to be "minimal and affordable."
Explaining that this realignment had been proposed for four legislative sessions, he observed, "This is the most likely time for it to happen. Kerr and Gillespie counties support the resolution, only Kendall County opposes it."
When asked about Kendall County's opposition to the realignment, Kendall County Precinct 2 Commissioner Gene Miertschin wrote in an email, "We did not oppose the realignment. We opposed any increase in cost to Kendall County."
He indicated that Kendall County court dockets "are in good shape," due to the cooperation between the 216th District Court and the Kendall County Court at Law, presided over by Judge Bill Palmer.
"After some discussion, the commissioners agreed to send a position paper to Austin saying we do not oppose the realignment as long as Kendall County does not incur any increase in costs," Miertschin continued. "(Kendall County) currently pays about 26 percent of the costs of the 216th court. Because we do not need - or expect - any more services from the 216th district, we are not willing to pay any more for the court now that it will be serving only three counties should the legislature decide to act."
Commissioners in both Bandera and Kerr counties offered an opinion that Kendall County had longed to form a stand-alone judicial district. Names of possible local candidates for judge and DA had even been fielded in local media. However, as Tinley in Kerr County put is, "(Kendall County's) got some issues down there, but this would help them also."
Even Evans noted, "Kendall wants to have its own district, but they can't cross the finish line."
According to Miertschin, Kendall County Commissioners Court has never campaigned for a new court, i.e., a one-county judicial district, starring Kendall County.
"There are some lawyers here that are active in the local bar association who bring it up periodically, but not the commissioners court - mainly due to increased costs and our lack of need," Miertschin wrote. Long known to keep a tight fist on Kendall County's purse strings, Miertschin is unlikely to vote for a stand-alone judicial district for his county unless local attorneys are prepared to fund it.
Meanwhile, Bandera County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the resolution. As Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris said, "At first I was reluctant to come on board with this realignment, but when I realized the rural counties supported the resolution, leaving Bandera in a two-county district, I think it's a great idea." His colleagues on the bench evidently concurred.