Guadalupe County officials asked for a new district court and the Texas Legislature obliged during its 86th session.
Receiving approval on May 27 in the House and in the Senate, Senate Bill 891 established the 456th Judicial District Court in Guadalupe County, among other things. The legislature sent the bill to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk May 28 and it still awaits his signature.
“It’s not a done deal yet because they’re waiting for the governor’s signature,” said 25th Judicial District Judge William D. Old III, administrative judge for Guadalupe County. “I do anticipate he will sign or at least just let it go into effect without signing it. That can happen as well.
“I do anticipate we’re going to get a new court.”
The bill establishes and sets guidelines for multiple courts across the state. The purpose is to ensure efficient and uniform justice.
It also creates a public information website for providing citation by publication, among other changes, according to an analysis of the bill published at capitol.texas.gov.
Old spearheaded Guadalupe County’s efforts to get its new court. He said the new judge has been a long time coming to Guadalupe County.
“We knew probably four years ago that we were going to need a new court,” Old said. “Guadalupe County had not had a new court since 1986. Most of the counties surrounding us had received new courts.”
Guadalupe County saw a 38% increase in civil cases within a seven-year span, Old said. The increase, he believes, is due in large part to the ongoing population growth the county has been experiencing for years.
He and the other judges serving the county prioritize criminal proceedings leaving a bit of a backlog on civil cases, Old said.
He secured the assistance of the Guadalupe County Commissioners Court late last year on the road to the recent legislation, Old said. The new judge will help the people of Guadalupe County, County Judge Kyle Kutscher said.
“I think ultimately long term, it’s going to be a real benefit,” he said. “It’s going to help out in the short term but I think as the courts and county continue to grow, the more benefits we’ll see from it, especially on the civil side which is what it was set up for.”
An additional judge will make the courts here more efficient, Kutscher said.
The state legislature set up the 456th Judicial District to handle civil cases. Lawmakers voted for the governor to appoint the first judge to the new district and then the seat will be filled via election.
Arrival of the new judge is still a way off, Old said.
“The new court will not go into effect — if the governor signs the bill — until Jan. 1, 2021,” he said. “We hoped we would’ve gotten it sooner however the governor likes to appoint judges. We were hoping they would be included in the election this coming year.”
Currently, he and 2nd 25th Judicial District Judge Jessica Crawford handle about 100 civil cases per month, Old said. He said 274th Judicial District Court Judge Gary Steel hears civil cases but currently isn’t being assigned any new ones due to his duties as local administrative judge in Hays County and his handling of a capital murder case. County Court at Law Judge William G. “Bill” Squires III gets to a number of the civil cases as well, Old said.
The new judge will help to free up time for all of the other judges while clearing more civil cases from the docket, the administrative judge said.
The prospects are exciting, Old said.
“I think in the long run it’s going to be better for Guadalupe County to have a judge who’s dedicated primarily to hearing civil cases,” he said. “That means cases can get heard more quickly.”