At the Atascosa County Commissioners budget workshop on July 23, 81st District Judge Donna Rayes talked about the possibility of a County Court at Law.
Rayes explained it relieves the constitutional county judge from her judicial role.
“It allows the county judge to be the administrator of the county. Atascosa County is at a place where the business of the county deserves the full attention of the county judge,” said Rayes.
Areas such as probate, juvenile matters, misdemeanors, mental health commitments and TABC would be taken care of by the County Court of Law.
Rayes also said that on the District Court level, Atascosa County has always been given more court days than any other county. Atascosa County has 65 non-jury court days, with Wilson County coming the closest with 50 non-jury court days.
Karnes and La Salle Counties are seeing a greatly increased court docket, noted Rayes. The complexity of the cases are also increasing greatly.
“I’m not just deciding who gets the mobile home anymore, I’m deciding millions of dollars in oil and gas royalties and things of that nature. The result being that those counties need more days,” said Rayes.
It would be very helpful to the District Court to have a County Court at Law, said Rayes. This would also allow for the family law cases to be taken off of the docket.
“The County Court at Law is a creature of the legislature. That is why the timing is important for this budget cycle,” added Rayes.
After the Commissioners are on board, the next step is to contact the State Senator and State Representative and ask them to create a bill in the Legislature to create the County Court at Law for Atascosa County. Generally, if the county wants it, they will sponsor it.
Other than the match from the state, the cost goes to the county. The state does pay 60 percent of the salary of the County Court at Law. Rayes estimated the annual budget for the County Court at Law would be a grand total of $161,800.
If the Legislature did create the court, until the next general election, the Commissioners would appoint the judge.
Rayes said she hopes the Commissioners would consider it.
“It’s time for Atascosa County… I just think it’s time for the county judge to be able to be the administrator.”
Treasurer Ray Samson asked if the County Court at Law was created, how soon would it be? Rayes answered the Legislature meets in January. If it was declared an emergency, it could go in effect immediately.