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How Does the Texas District Court Work?

Texas District Courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction in the state’s judicial system. At least one District Court serves each county in the state of Texas. However, a single county may be served by several District Courts, and a single District Court may also serve more than one county. This usually happens in densely populated areas and sparsely populated areas. District Courts have general jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases heard in the state. They typically handle the cases beyond the jurisdiction of the other trial courts in the Texas judicial system.

Even though District Courts have jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters, some of these courts located in densely populated areas may specialize in either criminal, juvenile, civil or family matters. In some counties, District Courts that specialize in criminal cases are referred to as Criminal District Courts. The Texas District Courts generally handle the following types of matters:

  • Felony criminal cases, and any lesser included offenses
  • Certain misdemeanor cases (this includes cases involving official misconduct)
  • Domestic relations matters (this includes cases involving divorce, paternity, child support, child custody and visitation, and domestic protection orders)
  • Juvenile matters (this includes cases involving juvenile delinquency, child abuse and neglect, adoptions, children in need of supervision, and termination of parental rights)
  • General civil cases (this includes cases involving contested elections, disputes involving title to land, slander, libel, and defamation cases)
  • Certain civil cases brought by the state of Texas
  • Civil matters where the total amount in controversy is more than $200
  • Certain probate matters

Also, the Texas District Courts have appellate jurisdiction and exercise general supervisory control over some of the other trial courts in the state’s court system and the County Commissioners Court in the counties where they are located. The County Commissioners Court is the governing body of the county. Texas District Court judges are also statutorily empowered to issue any writs that may be necessary to enforce the court’s jurisdiction.

The Texas court system currently has over 470 District Courts, with a District Court judge in each of these courts. District Court judges are elected in district-wide partisan elections to four-year terms. Before an individual can be elected as a Texas District Court judge, the person must be

  • A citizen of Texas that is between the ages of 25—74;
  • A resident of the district where the court is located for at least two years;
  • Licensed to practice law in Texas, and must have practiced either as a lawyer or a judge for at least four years.

The time spent practicing as either a lawyer or a judge can also be combined to make up the required years. Individuals nominated by the state governor fill vacant District Court judgeship positions after confirmation by the state’s senate.

The state of Texas is divided into 11 administrative regions, with a presiding judge overseeing each region’s activities. The state governor appoints the presiding judge. The presiding judge may either be a currently serving or retired District Court judge, a former judge who served a minimum of 12 years as a District Court judge, or a retired appellate judge with judicial experience on Texas District Courts. The presiding judge of each administrative region performs the following duties:

  • Promulgates and implements rules of administration for the region
  • Advices local judges on judicial management
  • Recommends changes to the Supreme Court of Texas that are necessary for the improvement of judicial administration in the state
  • Acts as a local administrative judge when necessary

Local administrative judges are responsible for the administration of the judicial process in a county. In most counties, the local administrative judge is usually the District Court judge. However, in counties where there is more than one District Court, the judges in these courts elect the local administrative judge amongst themselves. In situations where they cannot do so, the local administrative judge is appointed by the region’s presiding judge. Local administrative judges answer to the presiding judge of their region.

The Texas District Courts are jury trial courts, and every defendant is entitled to a trial by jury. However, in most civil cases, a jury is not empaneled unless specifically asked for by a party in the case. If this happens, the party demanding the jury will be required to pay a jury fee. The length of time it takes a case in a Texas District Court to reach completion depends on the type of case being heard. Generally, the timeframe it takes for a disposition to be issued for District Court cases is as follows:

  • Civil jury cases (excluding cases involving family law)—usually not more than 18 months from the appearance date
  • Civil non-jury cases (excluding cases involving family law)—usually not more than 12 months from the appearance date
  • Contested family law cases—usually not more than six months from the appearance date or six months from the expiration of the waiting period stipulated by Texas Family Code Section 6.702
  • Uncontested family law cases—usually not more than three months from the appearance date or three months from the expiration of the waiting period stipulated by Texas Family Code Section 6.702
  • Detention hearings for juvenile cases—the next business day after the juvenile admitted was into a detention facility.
  • Adjudicatory or transfer hearings in juvenile cases where the juvenile is in a detention facility—Not more than ten days after the juvenile was admitted into the facility (except in situations where good cause is shown as to why the juvenile should remain detained)
  • Adjudicatory or transfer hearings in juvenile cases where the juvenile is not in a detention facility—Not more than 30 days after the petition is filed (except in cases where good cause for a delay is shown)
  • Disposition hearings in juvenile cases—Not more than 15 days after the adjudicatory hearing

Note that even though there are approved timeframes for cases, some cases tend to be more complicated than others, and these types of cases may not adhere to these timeframes. This typically happens in criminal cases.

Decisions rendered in Texas District Courts can be appealed at a Texas Court of Appeals. However, cases that involve the death penalty are appealed directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Parties that wish to appeal a case must initiate the process not more than 30 days after the District Court judgment was issued.

Members of the public interested in obtaining Texas District Court records may do so by contacting the District Clerk’s office at the court where the case was heard.

Contact information for the Texas District Courts can be obtained via this directory.

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