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2013-03-14

Bandera County bills filed in Austin

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Bandera County's clogged court dockets may have gotten a shot of drain cleaner last week with the introduction of legislation to the 83rd Texas Legislature. The legislation addresses the makeup of the 198th Judicial District and creation of a new judicial district and the office of district attorney for a proposed 444th Judicial District.
On Tuesday, March 5, State Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock sponsored SB 1111. Duncan represents the rural counties involved in the realignment. Additionally, District 53 State Representative Harvey Hilderbran filed a companion piece - HB 3381 - three days later.
The components of both pieces of legislation include the incorporation of Bandera County in the 198th Judicial District and creating a new judicial, comprised of Edwards, Kimble, McCulloch, Mason and Menard counties, as well as a district attorney's office for the 444th Judicial District. Previously, Edwards, Kimble, McCulloch, Mason and Menard counties had been part of the 198th District. Additionally, Bandera County is currently a part of the 216th Judicial District.
If signed into law, the combined bills would leave just Bandera County and a portion of Kerr County in the 198th Judicial District, and Gillespie and Kendall counties and a portion of Kerr County in the 216th Judicial District.
Hilderbran represents Bandera, Crockett, Edwards, Kerr, Kimble, Llano, Mason, Medina, Menard, Real, Schleicher and Sutton counties.
If all goes according to plan, the realignments and new judicial district would go into effect Sept. 1. At that time, all district court cases from Edwards, Kimble, McCulloch, Mason and Menard counties pending in the 198th District would be transferred to the 444th District Court.
Bandera County's switch from the 216th Judicial District wasn't mentioned specifically in the filed legislation. However, Evans had received an email from Megan Lavor, Duncan's chief of staff, that indicated the legislation would move Bandera County out of the 216th and into the 198th Judicial District.
"Perhaps the wording will be tweaked later," Evans said in an interview on Monday, March 18, "but that was the intent of the author of the legislation."
During a meeting on Feb. 28, 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.
On Monday, Feb. 11, Kerr County Commissioners, led by Judge Pat Tinley, approved a similar resolution, which would allow them to "achieve more timely and effective disposition of cases in Kerr County." Commissioners in Gillespie County also supported the resolution.
However, their colleagues in Kendall County expressed some reservations. As Kendall County Precinct 2 Commissioner Gene Miertschin noted in an email exchange, "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."
Looking north and west, commissioners in Edwards, Kimble, McCulloch, Mason and Menard counties have also passed formal resolutions of support. Elected officials agree that a separate judicial district, more sensitive to rural problems and limited court resources, would better serve the needs of their constituents.
As Bandera Cunty Judge Richard Evans explained, "Judge (Keith) Williams (of the 216th District) carries the highest case load of any district in Texas. Currently, court is only held (in Bandera County) once a month. If we become a part of the 198th, we'll get twice as much attention from the DA and judge." 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" when compared to the benefits.