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Winter Newsletter

January 30, 2018

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Winter Welcome

We hope that this newsletter finds you well-rested from the holidays and back in the swing of things! Here at TJCTC, our year is picking up quickly. We have just finished the New Justice of the Peace Stage II training and a San Antonio 20-hour Judge seminar. We are looking forward to a Court Personnel seminar in Bee Caves this week and kicking off our first Civil Process seminar next month in San Antonio.

Listed below are some hot topics including transportation issues for Emergency Detention Orders and an update on the new bailiff training requirements. Special thanks in this newsletter goes to Hon. Russ Ridgway from Harris County for sharing his experience with docket and emergency management during Hurricane Harvey.

As always, we hope to see you all on the road and around the state!


Court Challenges After Hurricane Harvey
By Hon. Russ Ridgway
Harris County, Pct. 5, Place 1

Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the Texas coast on August 25, 2017. It was the first Category 4 hurricane to hit Texas since 1961. Almost 13,000 homes were destroyed, and 190,000 more were damaged; 37,000 people were in shelters, and 738,000 people registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management. Damage from the storm reached $180 billion. By September 1, 2017, approximately one-third of Houston was underwater as a result of record rainfall of over 51 inches. In the Gulf area, one million vehicles were lost. In the Houston Independent School District, 75 of the District’s 275 schools were closed due to flood damage. Harvey wreaked severe economic hardship for the 6.6 million people in Harris County and Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city.[1]

Hurricane Harvey impacted the Texas justice system in Harris County. Citizens with court business were displaced from their homes, were without transportation, were out of work, and many had no immediate source of income. Major freeways and neighborhood streets were impassable and traffic was relentless. The Harris County Criminal Courthouse housing the County Criminal Courts at Law, the District Courts Trying Criminal Cases, the Hearing Officers, the District Attorney’s Office, and Pretrial Services, was damaged and remains closed for repairs.

The storm impacted the Harris County Justice Courts as well. The Courthouse Annexes housing two of the largest Harris County Justice Courts, Precinct 5 Place 2 in West Houston, and Precinct 4 Place 1, in North Houston, sustained major flood damage, closing the buildings for major repairs. As a result of the flooding, millions of court documents had to be sent off for drying, and temporary spaces had to be refurbished to accommodate court staff, computers and equipment, furniture, and office supplies, and an overwhelming number of citizens and vehicles.

Justice Court Precinct 5 Place 2 immediately relocated to the offices of Justice Court Precinct 5 Place 1, dividing court space and courtroom time. After approximately two months of sharing the Precinct 5 Place 1 offices, Precinct 5 Place 2, moved into temporary quarters in a strip center space formerly occupied by a pizza restaurant.

Justice Court Precinct 4 Place 1 immediately relocated to the Precinct 4 Place 2 courthouse, where the two courts continue to share court offices and the courtroom. Justice Court Precinct 4 Place 1 was able to restore enough of its damaged courthouse to allow several clerks to return to answer phones for the Court.

The four Justice Courts sharing courthouse space had to streamline their daily dockets, restructure work schedules, and reassign workload to accommodate the need to share work space. Notices to the public changing the Courts’ locations and operations were made available on the Harris County Justice Courts’ website, but Court location information had to be changed on citations and other court processes and case notices, and changes in motion hearings and trial settings had to be resent.

Court personnel, many of whom were impacted by the storm, had to adapt to different locations and working hours while they dealt with the loss of homes, possessions, and vehicles. The Texas Supreme Court relaxed statutory deadlines to accommodate court operations affected by the hurricane and its aftermath, but the Justice Courts were also impacted by legislative changes to criminal procedure effective September 1st requiring additional notices and show cause dockets.

Against this backdrop, our general public continued to demand justice that was speedy and efficient. Perhaps the most significant action taken by the Courts affected by the hurricane, was the revision in docket management. Combining the workload of four of the largest Justice Courts in the County and affecting that workload in the office space and parking provided for one court, was challenging. Among those challenges were:

  • Increased requests for alternative service;
  • Increased number of eviction filings resulting from the destruction of property;
  • Creating additional docket times to accommodate the business of both courts, including show cause dockets prior to the issuance of warrants and other criminal process;
  • Increased preparation and mailing of notices because of case resets (3000 in our court alone), and notices required following failure to appear, the issuance of a warrant, and the issuance of other criminal process; and,
  • Increased attention to security in dealing with highly affected parties.

These Courts used all of their creativity to manage their workload, to catch up, and to avoid a further backlog in case processing. Some of the tools used by the judges and their clerks, included:

  • Evaluating the strengths and knowledge base of the staff, making additional work assignments based on those strengths and skills;
  • Assigning a priority in processing the various case types;
  • Conferring with the Constables and District Attorney in order efficiently to handle the increased workloads and dockets;
  • Streamlining actions necessary to complete repetitive tasks, e.g. preparing and mailing notices, resetting cases, etc.
  • Reviewing clerk work schedules to vary work start and end times, and to minimize the budgetary impact of overtime;
  • Tracking progress to insure that cases are processed to disposition in the interest of justice.

In Harris County, the Justices of the Peace are fortunate to have each other to provide assistance to those Courts more severely impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The judges are able to transfer cases among the Courts, and to exchange benches in order to assist in the processing of cases. Even in providing this assistance, each of the Justice Courts face the challenges of more work hours, and increased work load, and the Justices of the Peace recognize the need to respond to these exceptional circumstances with compassion.

The Judges also recognize the spirit of cooperation and patience demonstrated by the citizens of Harris County as the Justice Courts work to normalize after Hurricane Harvey. While justice may appear to be more difficult, the Judges and court staff remain effective and efficient regardless of the circumstances that challenge the Justice Courts.

 

[1] Facts pertaining to Hurricane Harvey were compiled by Kimberly Amadeo, Hurricane Harvey Facts, Damage and Costs, published in The Balance, December 14, 2017.


Inquest Bench Exchange Agreements in Practice

Special thanks to Hon. Mary Ann Leudecke and Hon. Juanita Bishop for information for this article.

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Jeff Davis County in West Texas has more than 2,200 square miles of land. Judge Mary Ann Luedecke understands the distance well and the difficulties it can present, particularly to inquests. As the only JP in Jeff Davis County, travel time to inquests can involve long drives on unpaved roads at all times of the day and night.

New legislation has made it possible for counties to sign inquest bench exchange agreements and several West Texas Counties have recently put these agreements into place. Judge Luedecke has signed bench exchange agreements with Judge Gilbert Valenzuela in Brewster County, Judge Juanita Bishop and Judge David Beebe in Presidio County, and Judge Roger Harrison in Reeves County. Judge Luedecke said, "After Justice Scalia passed, I realized things needed to change. I was available for his inquest, and was 45 minutes to an hour away but was not considered since the county line stood between. I’ve also found it necessary to seek help from neighboring J.P.’s in case of a necessary absence from the bench” or when an inquest involves “travel time as another barrier, most places [in Jeff Davis County] having only dirt roads.”

Judge Juanita Bishop from Presidio County says one of the best reasons for signing the bench exchange agreement is because it “gives you a peace of mind knowing you can count on someone else to help when you are not available.” Judge Bishop has signed bench exchange agreements with Jeff Davis and Brewster counties.

How can JP’s go about setting up an inquest bench exchange agreement? Judge Luedecke recommends “starting with your County Attorney” who can help with “drafting the preliminary paperwork seeking statutory and legal limitations.” Working with the County Attorney is important as “there may be monetary compensation to consider.” Judge Luedecke also suggests that “once you have the bench exchange in place, be sure to cover your county when you have to be gone. Since my county is so large geographically, I wait for the dispatch to inform as to the location [of the inquest]. With that knowledge, I can and do call the appropriate Judge.”

Inquest bench exchanges are not only useful for Judges who live in geographically large counties. They may also be utilized to help counties deal with a Mass Fatality event. To read about using bench exchanges for mass fatalities and to see in detail how the recent legislation changed the law, please click here to read Rebecca Glisan’s article in our Summer 2017 newsletter.

Are you interested in setting up an inquest bench exchange with your neighboring counties? TJCTC has created a sample form to facilitate this process. You can find the form at the following link under the title “2017 Legislative Update Forms:” http://www.tjctc.org/tjctc-resources/forms.html. Judge Luedecke is also happy to discuss the process with other Judges considering the agreement. For her contact information, email Jessica at jessforeman@txstate.edu.


Courtroom Security Training: New Bailiff Requirements

New legislation passed during the Texas 85th Legislative session requires all current bailiffs to obtain 8-hours of training through TCOLE-approved curriculum by September 1, 2019. In addition, when a new bailiff is hired, they will have one year to obtain the courtroom security certification.

TJCTC will be offering several options to obtain this required training for the 2018 – 2019 academic year. The 2019 Civil Process seminars will include a courtroom security track and TJCTC hopes to bring 1-day workshops to each TCOLE region around the state.

We will be sending out a brochure advertising all of our courtroom security options in late spring. Check your mail and our website then for more information.

Constable Offices, We Need your Expertise!

Due to the new requirements, hundreds of bailiffs will need to be trained around the state. TJCTC wants to be at the forefront of the conversation on courtroom security and to do that, we need your help!

Are you a subject matter expert in courtroom security? TJCTC needs instructors for our courtroom security programs next year. If you are interested in being an instructor, send us your resume and qualifications including information on your specific training.

Is your office on the cutting edge of courtroom security? (For example, do you use the latest technology or have great courtroom security best practices set up with your staff?) If so, send us an email with your tips. We would like to incorporate your best practices in our courtroom security programs.

Do you have a unique courtroom security situation? (For example, is your courtroom in an annex or a non-traditional building that requires different security solutions?) If so, send us an email explaining how you apply courtroom security best practices in a non-traditional setting. We are looking to use locations like these as case studies in our programs.

Please email all ideas and inquiries to Jessica, TJCTC’s Education Manager, at jessforeman@txstate.edu.


Transportation Issues Relating to Emergency Detention Orders
By Randall L. Sarosdy, TJCTC General Counsel

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In recent years transportation of persons who are believed to be mentally ill has become an ever-increasing problem. Peace officers, upon whom this burden has principally fallen, have sometimes objected to what they sometimes see as a diversion of their time and resources away from fighting crime. Compounding the problem is the distance the officers may have to travel to take a person to a mental health facility: in some parts of the state it may be 250 miles each way! A related problem is the lack of availability of space in the local mental health facility for new patients. In some communities persons are taken first to an emergency room of a local hospital and then later taken to mental health facility when a bed becomes available. Some peace officers have taken the position that their responsibility ends when they drop the person at the ER and they cannot be compelled to transport them later to the mental health facility.

In the 2017 Legislative Session the Legislature passed S.B. 344, allowing law enforcement to enter into a memorandum of understanding permitting a person who is believed to be mentally ill to be transferred to EMS personnel for transportation to the mental health facility. In light of this new law this may be a good time to review some of the transportation issues relating to emergency detention orders and the transportation options now available for the mentally ill.

1. Statutory Framework

The Texas Mental Health Code, codified as Subtitle C of Title 7 of the Health and Safety Code (Sections 571.001 through 578.008) relates to the care and treatment of mentally ill individuals.

Chapter 573 provides for the emergency detention of a person who is believed to be mentally ill and a risk to themselves or others.

A peace officer may take custody of and transport a person under Chapter 573 in two circumstances. First, Section 573.001 authorizes a peace officer to take a person into custody, without a warrant, if the officer has reason to believe and does believe that the person has a mental illness and as a result there is a substantial risk of serious harm to the person or others if the person is not immediately restrained, and the officer believes there is not sufficient time to obtain a warrant before taking the person into custody.

The peace officer taking a person into custody under Section 573.001(d) is required to "immediately transport the apprehended person to: (1) the nearest appropriate inpatient mental health facility” or (2) a mental health facility deemed suitable by the local mental health authority, if an appropriate inpatient mental health facility is not available." The peace officer is then required to "immediately file an application for detention after transporting a person to a facility.'' Section 573.002(a).

Second, Section 573.011(a) authorizes any adult to file a written application for the emergency detention of another person. Upon findings by the judge or magistrate concerning the person's mental illness and risk of ham, the "magistrate shall issue to an on-duty peace officer a warrant for the person's immediate apprehension." Section 573.012(d).

The "person apprehended . . . shall be transported for a preliminary examination in accordance with Section 573.021 to: (1) the nearest appropriate inpatient mental health facility; or (2) a mental health facility deemed suitable by the local mental health authority, if an appropriate inpatient mental health facility is not available." Section 573.012(e).

2. Transportation Issues

Law enforcement officers in some counties have found the requirements for transportation of mentally ill persons to a mental health facility under Chapter 573 to be increasingly burdensome and difficult.

For example, may a peace officer who has taken a person into custody under Chapter 573 be required to transport the person to a medical facility for evaluation prior to taking the person to a mental health facility? See Tex. Atty. Gen. Op. No. GA-0753 (2009).

May a municipal peace officer execute an emergency detention warrant? See Tex. Atty. Gen. Op. No. JC-0387 (2001).

Is law enforcement responsible for a person who is taken to a local hospital for a preliminary examination before being taken to a mental health facility? See Tex. Atty. Gen. Op. No. GA-0877 (2011).

In one county the sheriff has recently stated that his office will not transport any mentally ill persons to a mental health facility because they are too busy exercising traditional law enforcement functions relating to criminal activity.

In another county the Chief of Police took the position that they could only be required to take the person to the nearest emergency room for evaluation and if the person had to be transported afterwards to a mental health facility he refused to do that.

No doubt many similar and related transportation issues have arisen related to law enforcement’s obligations under Chapter 573.

3. S.B. 344

S.B. 344 adds Section 573.005 of the Health and Safety Code, allowing a law enforcement agency and an emergency medical services provider to execute a memorandum of understanding under which emergency medical services personnel may transport a person taken into custody under Section 573.001 by a peace officer employed by the law enforcement agency.

The memorandum of understanding must (1) address responsibility for the cost of transporting the person taken into custody and (2) be approved by the county in which the law enforcement agency is located and the local mental health authority that provides services in that county with respect to provisions of the memorandum that address the responsibility for the cost of transporting the person. Section 573.005(b).

A peace officer may request that emergency medical services personnel transport a person taken into custody by the officer under Section 573.001 only if (1) the law enforcement agency that employs the officer and the emergency medical services provider that employs the EMS personnel have executed a memorandum of understanding and (2) the officer determines that transferring the person for transportation is safe for both the person and the personnel. Section 573.005(c).

The peace officer must still provide the notice to the person who is being transported stating the reasons they are being detained and give a completed notification of detention form to the EMS personnel with the information required by Section 573.002(d). Section 573.005(e).

The bill does not amend the provisions of Section 573.012(d) or (e) under which a magistrate issues a warrant for a person’s immediate apprehension and orders the transportation of the person to the “nearest appropriate inpatient mental health facility” or “a mental health facility deemed suitable by the local mental health authority, if an appropriate inpatient mental health facility is not available.”

Therefore, it is only when a peace officer apprehends a mentally ill person without a warrant that the officer may transfer the person to EMS for transportation to the LMHA. If a judge issues an emergency detention warrant and orders a peace officer to apprehend a person who is mentally ill, the officer must transport the person to the nearest appropriate or suitable mental health facility.

4. Effect of S.B. 344?

It is too early to tell how significant the effect of S.B. 344 will be in addressing the transportation issues relating to emergency detention orders. It is certainly likely to have some positive effect at least to the extent that peace officers may have the option of transferring the person to EMS if the person was apprehended by the officer without a warrant under Section 573.001 and there is a memorandum of understanding in place.

While S.B. 344 does not address all of the transportation issues identified above, it may provide a useful approach that could be expanded to address apprehension of a person upon issuance of an emergency detention order under Section 573.012 in the future. We look forward to being informed of your experiences and observations concerning the effectiveness of S.B. 344 over the next year.


Judges, are you retiring?

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First off, congratulations on your well-deserved retirement! It has been a privilege to work with you all throughout your time on the bench. We kindly ask that you let us know about your upcoming retirement if you have not yet. The Rules of Judicial Education require that new judges attend 80 hours of training with TJCTC. Letting us know that a new judge will be filling your spot soon will help us plan for next year.

What are my education requirements?

The academic year runs from September 1st - August 31st. If you will be retiring before August 31st, you will not need to get any educational hours for the FY19 academic year. However, if you will be retiring after September or at the end of your term in December, you will need to attend 20-hours of judicial education (including 10 hours of civil) before August 31, 2018 to be compliant. If you have any questions concerning your educational hours, please email Jessica at jessforeman@txstate.edu.


Contributions to the Newsletter

We need your help! We have several newsletter articles coming up in the next year that need information from JP and Constable offices. Can you help us?

Judges and Court Personnel
Future article: Community Service options
Do you have a creative community service option you use in your court? Let us know about it.

Constables and Deputy Constables
Do you use travel printers in your cars? Would you recommend this option to other offices?
Let us know how travel printers have helped you serve civil process.

Please email all contributions to Jessica at jessforeman@txstate.edu.