Samantha Best

by Samantha Best

In the most recent legislative session, two bills were passed that are already starting to send ripples in courthouses across the state. These two bills require counties to report more detailed information to the Office of Court Administration (OCA) than previously required. Bill HB 1182 will require counties with larger populations to file a report monthly, and Bill HB 2384 will require all counties to file a different report yearly. Some people are starting to wonder what these two bills mean for those of us who interact with the courts daily.

HB 1182 relates to judicial statistics and other pertinent information gathered by the Texas Judicial Council and certain populous counties.” The text specifies populous counties as those with a population over one million. It further requires the counties to report activity statistics on a case-level basis for each trial court in Texas monthly. The report must include but is not limited to:

  1. The number of cases assigned to the court;
  2. the case clearance rate for the court;
  3. the number of cases disposed of by the court;
  4. the number of jury panels empaneled for the court;
  5. the number of orders of continuance for an attorney before the court or by the court;
  6. the number of pleas accepted by the court;
  7. the number of cases tried by the judge of the court or before a jury; and
  8. the number of cases tried before a visiting or associate judge of the court.

The report must be submitted every month by the 20th for each district court, statutory county court, statutory probate court, and county court. These reports can be found on the OCA’s website (www.txcourts.gov). To find the reports, look under the Judicial Data tab and proceed to District & County Court-Level Reporting. The website states that reporting of individual court information will begin in April 2024, starting with March 2024 data.

The introduction to HB 2384 describes it as “relating to court administration, including the knowledge, efficiency, training, and transparency requirements for candidates for or holders of judicial offices.” Per the OCA’s website, these annual reports will be submitted every year by November 1. The reporting year will begin on September 1 and end on August 31. The first report due this year in November will cover March 1 through August 31.

The first item listed in the description is court administration. Between the two bills, this bill tasks OCA with developing criteria or “standards” to identify which courts perform at acceptable levels and which do not. Section 4 adds a subsection (b-1) to Section 72.024 of the Government Code; it states-

(b-1) The director shall develop standards for identifying courts that need additional assistance to promote the efficient administration of justice.

Section 5 adds a sentence to Section 72.082 of the Government Code relating to the Performance Report. Previously, it simply stated that the office would annually collect and publish a report regarding the efficiency of state courts. The legislature has now added specific requirements, with the following sentence-

The report must include disaggregated performance measures for each appellate court, district court, statutory county court, statutory probate court, and county court.

While not explicitly defined in the bill, disaggregated performance measures generally mean the separation of compiled information into smaller units to gain an understanding of trends and patterns. Here, the bill specifies the small units as individual courts. Previously, the requirement was aggregated (or combined) data, specifically of district courts.

Section 6 updates Section 72.083, Government Code pertaining to Trial Courts. It defines “Clearance Rate” as the number of cases disposed of by a court divided by the number of cases added to the court’s docket. It further states that the office will report specified performance measures for each of the previously listed courts each year. Those measures are-

  1. Clearance Rate
  2. The average Time a case is before the court from filing to deposition;
  3. The age of the court’s active, pending caseload.

The consequence for courts determined by the OCA not to be up to required standards is found in Section 7. This section updates Section 74.046 of the Government Code, which pertains to the Duties of the Presiding Judge. It adds subsection (b) which states –

(b)    presiding judges may appoint a judicial mentor or arrange for additional administrative personnel to be assigned to a court identified by the Office of Court Administration of the Texas Judicial System as needing extra assistance under Section 72.024(b-1).

It is unclear what judicial mentorship or additional administration will look like at present; however, being identified by the OCA as needing additional assistance is more likely than not to be viewed as resulting from a need to improve performance.

The bill has additional provisions requiring additional disclosures for judicial candidates at the time of filing, additional requirements for judicial education, and the development of new specialty certification for attorneys in judicial administration.

Time will tell how these new data reporting measures will affect our courts, but with heightened scrutiny and additional transparency, some courts will likely respond with changes. As with most changes, they initially may prove to be challenging for everyone.

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Samantha Best is an attorney at Kastl Law, P.C., where she specializes in litigation. She also serves as a Co-Chair of the DAYL Law Book Fair Committee. Samantha is a second-career attorney who previously worked in education as a science teacher and librarian. You can reach her at sbest@kastllaw.com.

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