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How Does the Texas County Court Work?

The Texas court system has two county-level trial courts of general jurisdiction, which includes the Texas Constitutional County Courts and the Texas Statutory Courts. These courts are also referred to as the Texas County Courts at Law. Each county in Texas has a Constitutional Court, while County Courts at Law are usually found in counties with large populations. In these populous counties, the Constitutional Court may devote its time to administering the county government, relegating most of its judicial functions to the County Courts at Law.

The jurisdictions of Texas County Courts vary from county to county. Generally, Constitutional County Courts hear the following types of cases:

  • Civil cases where the amount in controversy is between $200 - $20,000 (in some counties, these courts share jurisdiction with the Texas Justice Courts over these types of cases)
  • Probate, mental health, and guardianship matters
  • Misdemeanors that have a punishment of jail time or fines of more than $500
  • Certain juvenile and domestic relations matters

Texas Constitutional County Courts also perform administrative duties for the county through the County Commissioners Court, the county’s governing body. In addition to this, Constitutional County Courts have appellate jurisdiction over the decisions reached in the Texas Justice and Municipal Courts.

Alternatively, the County Courts at Law generally have jurisdiction over the same types of cases that the Constitutional County Courts may hear. These include:

  • Civil matters where the amount in controversy is between $200 - $250,000 (the maximum amount may vary in some counties)
  • General civil matters
  • Certain felony and misdemeanor cases (these courts typically have jurisdiction over misdemeanor cases that do not have a penalty of imprisonment)
  • Certain juvenile and domestic relations matters
  • Probate, guardianship, and mental health cases

Selections into texas County Court judge’s position are through county-wide partisan elections held every four years. Texas Constitutional Court judges are not required to be licensed law practitioners. They are, however, expected to be well informed in Texas state law. For the Texas County Courts at Law, individuals that wish to be elected as judges must be citizens of the United States who are at least 25 years old and have resided in the county for at least two years. These individuals must also be licensed attorneys who have either practiced law or served as judges for at least four years. When there is a vacant position in a Texas County Court between elections, an eligible individual is appointed by the county’s commissioners to occupy the position until the next election.

Criminal trials held in Texas County Courts are typically by a jury, while civil trials are done without a jury. However, in civil cases, any of the litigants have the right to request a trial by jury. When this happens, the judge shall impanel a jury, and the requesting party will be required to pay a jury fee.

The time it takes for a disposition to be issued in a Texas County Court typically varies by county and case type. Most dispositions are generally issued within timeframes stipulated by the rules of the Texas judicial system. These timeframes are listed as follows:

  • Civil cases that involve a jury (except family law cases)—within 18 months from the appearance date
  • Civil cases that do not involve a jury (except family law cases)—within 12 months from the appearance date
  • Contested family law cases—within six months from the appearance date or six months from the expiration of the waiting period stipulated by the Texas Family Code, whichever date comes later
  • Uncontested family law cases—within three months from the appearance date or three months from the expiration of the waiting period stipulated by the Texas Family Code, whichever date comes later
  • Juvenile detention hearings—the next business day following the juvenile’s admission into a detention facility
  • Juvenile adjudicatory or transfer hearings in cases where the juvenile is in a detention facility—Not later than ten days after the admission of the juvenile into the facility
  • Juvenile adjudicatory or transfer hearings in cases where the juvenile is not in a detention facility—Not later than 30 days after the petition is filed Juvenile disposition hearings—Not later than 15 days after the adjudicatory hearing.

Note that in hearings involving juveniles, a judge may call for a recess at any stage of the proceeding in situations where the parties involved agree to or where the judge feels it is in the juvenile’s best interest and society.

Parties that are unsatisfied with the judgment rendered by a Texas County Court can appeal the decision at the Texas Courts of Appeals. This should be done not later than 30 days after the judgment of the County Court is issued.

There are currently more than 520 County Courts in the Texas court system. Parties interested in accessing court records from any of these courts will be required to contact the District Clerk office in the county where the case was filed. Some of these records may also be obtained from the office of the County Clerk in some counties.

Contact details for Texas County Courts and court officials can be gotten from the Texas judicial system’s online directory.

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