Texas Supreme Court Has Issued Its 45th Emergency Order

On November 23, 2021, the Texas Supreme Court issued the 45th Emergency Order. As of today, it is not accessible on the txcourts.gov website and has not, to my knowledge, been emailed out to court personnel by OCA. It was emailed to attorneys by the state bar, however. The pdf of the 45th order has been added to end of this post for all who have not seen it.

Of note, all Texas courts are permitted to use teleconferencing through February 1, 2022. While courts may continue to use reasonable efforts to hold proceedings remotely, remote jury proceedings must not be conducted unless the court has considered on the record (or in a written order) any objection or motion related to moving forward with a jury proceeding at least seven days before the jury proceeding or as soon as practicable if the objection or motion is made or filed within seven days of the jury proceeding.

Additionally, municipal and justice courts may suspend or modify trial-related and pretrial hearing deadlines through March 1, 2022. Despite this, municipal and justice courts are to “move swiftly to return to regular pretrial and trial proceedings as soon as reasonably feasible before March 1, 2022.”

Stay tuned to see if more court guidance documents are to come from OCA.

TMCEC Retools and Retitles Low Volume Seminar as “Fundamentals: Constitutional Criminal Procedure and Legislative Changes”

Mark Goodner sat down with Ryan Turner and Elizabeth Rozacky to discuss the upcoming “Fundamentals” Seminar.

MG: When I first started at TMCEC, I was able to attend what was the last Low Volume Seminar of 2008. After that, we kept the seminar in the archives so-to-speak for a dozen years. Thankfully, we brought it back in AY 2020. There have been some tweaks to the program. What has changed and what has stayed the same?

RKT: Well, of course, I guess the main thing is the name of the seminar.  The focus is still on basic, yet important, tenets of constitutional criminal procedure.  However, one of the things we learned from audience feedback is that while there is a need and an appreciation in courts that adjudicate a relatively low volume of cases for the seminars content, the seminar is not just for judges and clerks who work in such courts.  Constitutional law is the glue that makes criminal procedure stick.  Its importance is not limited to “low volume courts.” 

ER: At its core, the program has always been a refresher on the fundamentals of constitutional law and how those concepts apply to municipal courts. Courts of all sizes can benefit from revisiting these concepts, so we’re excited to open up this opportunity to more participants.

MG: I remember it having a wonderful overview (with some specific diving in, as well) of the constitutional foundations that support so many of our practices in municipal court. In the past, it was geared toward non-attorney judges and clerks (hopefully with teams from the same city). I think this would be a wonderful program for a judge that has been through the New Judges program in the last handful of years. Who else would this program be perfect for?

RKT: Absolutely, I highly recommend this seminar for folks who recently attended either the New Judges or New Clerks Seminar. While the curriculum is intended for judges and clerks who have not attended law school and who are not lawyers, we have also had attorneys attend.  They said it was a fun and fantastic way to take inventory of their understanding of fundamental constitutional issues in criminal law.

Similarly, I think this seminar offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity for clerks and court administrators to develop a better understanding of how the constitution colors our procedures and practices.

ER: Ditto! I often hear from folks who feel they only started to understand their court after a year or two on the job (long after they finished the New Judges or New Clerks curriculums). This program is a great way to get back to basics and continue learning.

MG: I love the model that provides the same faculty over the entire 12 hours. It’s quite a team of Judge Robin Ramsay, Judge Gary Ellsworth, Ryan Turner, and Elizabeth Rozacky. Elizabeth and Ryan, what do you like about this format and how does it feel to be part of this special team?

ER: I love being on this team. There’s such a wide range of experience in the room with judges from small towns and big cities alike. But I’m always impressed by the amount of pure practical knowledge this faculty brings. Judges and clerks can come away from the course with fresh eyes and real tools to apply to their day-to-day court practice.

RKT: I love collaborating with Robin, Gary, and Beth. I also love the format.  The teaching is collaborative and conversational.  The instructional strategy is engaging.  The course materials consist of a lot of interactive notes and wealth of research materials.  I believe that judges, clerks, and court administrators who attend this particular seminar leave with a deeper appreciation of the law.  We are so lucky to get to bring this event to Laredo and I hope court personnel throughout Texas, but particularly in South Texas will take advantage of this opportunity.

This is the last time it will be offered in South Texas and it is one of TMCEC’s best seminars. Don’t miss out.

The next Fundamentals program takes place on November 3-4, 2021 in Laredo. Space is still available for judges, clerks, and court administrators. To read more about the program, see the excerpt from the Fall Academic Bulletin below. Register today! Financial aid is available. If you have questions, call 800-252-3718.

Supreme Court of Texas Issues 43rd Emergency Order

We are a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is no clear end in sight. As long as the state of disaster endures, the Supreme Court is empowered to issue emergency orders. Last week, on September 21, 2021, the Supreme Court of Texas issued the 43rd Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster. TMCEC attorneys took time to review and discuss the order.

MG: This seems to be much the same as guidance that we’ve had for the last year or more. Notably, all courts can still (without a participant’s consent) allow or require anyone to participate remotely through video or telephone. This order goes into effect on October 1, 2021 and expires on December 1, 2021. Are there any new wrinkles that we should be aware of?

ER: Something that caught my eye was the change to provisions related to extending deadlines (#4 in the new order). Older emergency orders permitted courts to “modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures, whether prescribed by statute, rule, or order” up to April 1, 2022. Now the types of deadlines that may be extended are expressly limited to (1) trial-related deadlines and procedures; and (2) deadlines and procedures for pretrial hearings.

MG: That’s an interesting tweak, Elizabeth. I know we (TMCEC) talked over the last year about examples of things that could be modified or suspended including DSC and Deferred Disposition deadlines. Judges may want to rethink that now and ask themselves “Are probation-related deadlines trial-related? Are they pre-trial hearings?” These are the questions that courts will need to carefully consider.

,RC: I’d be curious to know the reason for the change in this order and if it is part of a gradual pulling back of the authority. Not the end, but the beginning of the end, so to speak. It is clearly a narrower authority than what we have seen in every order since the provision was originally added. For municipal and justice courts, “pretrial” does generally have a broader meaning than in the higher courts where that reference typically means a 28.01, CCP pretrial. But like Mark, I think this is a bit of a gamechanger from what we discussed in our Keynote at Regional Judges and Clerks all last year. The current provision no longer appears to contemplate anything not directly related to trial or pretrial like DSC or probation. Judges who were hanging their hats on the emergency orders for deadline modifications that fall outside existing statutory authority may want to give these changes some thought.

NM: There has definitely been an effort to narrow and itemize those deadlines that may be extended starting October 1st. Echoing Mark’s point, there will still be some potential gray areas – but they will be less gray than before. Other than this, I do not see any significant changes for municipal courts stemming from the 43rd Emergency Order.

To keep up with COVID-19-related updates, see TMCEC’s page here or txcourts.gov/court-coronavirus-information/

Supreme Court Issues 38th Emergency Order, Updates Best Practices

Yesterday the Office of Court Administration sent out COVID UPDATE #25 with links to the new 38th Emergency Order as well as the new best practice recommendations for health considerations. If you are a municipal court professional and not on the email list, I have pasted the message below in its entirety.

Judges, Clerks, and Court Staff:

Supreme Court Issues Updated Emergency Order

Today the Supreme Court issued the 38th Emergency Order, extending the 36th Emergency Order as amended. The key changes are:

Courts are permitted to modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures for a period no later than August 1 (was previously June 1);

In CPS termination proceedings, all deadlines and procedures are permitted to be modified or suspended until August 1, except that the dismissal date may be extended until December 1, February 1, or April 1, depending on certain circumstances.

As stated last week, courts may continue to take any reasonable action to avoid exposing court proceedings and participants to the threat of COVID-19. As stated in Attorney General Opinion KP-0322, “judges possess broad inherent authority to control orderly proceedings in their courtrooms, and pursuant to that authority, they can require individuals in the courtroom to wear facial coverings” and “may require any person entering the courthouse in which they preside to wear a facial covering while in the courthouse.” Previously-issued executive orders do not alter the Supreme Court’s current emergency order, the ability of a judge to control his or her courtroom, or judiciary-imposed requirements for those entering a court building who will be attending a court proceeding.

OCA Updates Best Practice Recommendations for Health Considerations

OCA has updated the best practice recommendations for health considerations to be consistent with CDC and DSHS guidance.

As always, if you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to coronavirus@txcourts.gov.

David Slayton

Administrative Director

Office of Court Administration

TMCEC will continue to update our materials and presentations with the latest information regarding emergency orders and virtual proceedings.

Abbott Issues Executive Order GA-36, OCA Responds

On May 18, 2021, Governor Abbott issued Executive Order No. GA-36 relating to the prohibition of governmental entities and officials from mandating face coverings or restricting activities in response to the COVID-19 disaster. This new order raised questions about how this prohibition impacted courts. Once again, the Office of Court Administration quickly sent out COVID Update #24 by email. If you did not receive, I have pasted the update below in its entirety.

Judges, Clerks, and Court Staff:


As you may be aware, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has issued new health recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals recommending that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a face covering or socially distance in any setting. In addition, today, Governor Abbott issued Executive Order GA-34 [Editors note: It is GA-36 that was issued yesterday] strongly encouraging individuals to continue wearing face coverings over the nose and mouth whenever social distancing is not possible, but stating that no person can be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering. Certain entities are permitted to impose increased restrictions, including county judges in areas with high hospitalization, businesses, nursing and long-term care facilities, public schools, and county and municipal jails.

As the Supreme Court’s 36th Emergency Order states, courts may take any reasonable action to avoid exposing court proceedings to the threat of COVID-19, including requiring compliance with social distancing protocols and face coverings worn over the nose and mouth. As stated in Attorney General Opinion KP-0322, “judges possess broad inherent authority to control orderly proceedings in their courtrooms, and pursuant to that authority, they can require individuals in the courtroom to wear facial coverings” and “may require any person entering the courthouse in which they preside to wear a facial covering while in the courthouse.” The executive order issued today does not alter the Supreme Court’s current emergency order, the ability of a judge to control his or her courtroom, or requirements for those entering a court building who will be attending a court proceeding. As the Supreme Court’s 36th Emergency Order expires on June 1, a new order is expected in the coming days.

 While OCA will issue a full set of updated best practices in the coming days, OCA plans to alter its best practices recommendations to be consistent with CDC Guidance for face coverings and social distancing. Fully vaccinated persons should not be required but encouraged to wear a face covering, and fully vaccinated individuals should not be required to socially distance. Otherwise, courts should encourage all court participants and individuals in the courtroom to wear a face covering and socially distance, especially those who are unvaccinated. This may require designating certain parts of a court facility and courtrooms as a face-covering and/or socially-distanced zone while others are not. Courts should not inquire about vaccination status as this information is private information.

 As always, if you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to coronavirus@txcourts.gov.

 David Slayton

Administrative Director

Office of Court Administration

If you have not read GA-36 yet, here are some key takeaways:

Effective immediately, no governmental entity or official may require any person to wear a face covering. There are some exceptions to this including state supported living centers, government-owned or operated hospitals, the Texas Department of Justice, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, and county and municipal jails.

Public schools shall update guidance for schools before June 5, 2021 and no student, parent, or other staff member or visitor may be required to war a face covering.

Governor Abbott additionally suspends certain statutes in the Government Code, Health and Safety Code, and Local Government Code as well as any other statute invoked by any local government entity or official in support of a face-covering requirement.

Under Section 418,173 of the Government Code, Abbott states that nay face-covering requirement by a local governmental entity or official constitutes a failure to comply and is subject to a fine of up to $1,000 beginning at 11:59 p.m. on May 21, 2021.

In the coming days, look for more guidance from the Supreme Court. At TMCEC, we will keep you updated with the latest information.

Experience Educational Freedom with TMCEC Webinars

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a webinar?

A webinar is an educational course or class that is taught entirely online. TMCEC webinars are designed to be single-issue courses that are generally one hour long.

What makes TMCEC webinars a unique learning experience?

TMCEC webinars are designed to cater especially to municipal court personnel by covering specific issues pertinent to courts. Additionally, TMCEC has been producing and offering webinars since 2006, giving us lots of experience in developing compelling educational content through webinars. The combination of these specially cultivated topics and being able to pull from a large pool of excellent faculty members results in a truly unique experience.

Who can watch a webinar?

Any TMCEC constituent can watch a webinar. This includes judges, clerks, court administrators, prosecutors, and juvenile case managers. Bailiffs and warrant officers can also watch webinars, but online training is not offered for TCOLE credit.

To watch a TMCEC webinar, what do I have to do?

The easiest way to find webinars is to go to tmcec.com and click on the OLC link as pictured below:

Once you are in the OLC, click on the webinars icon as pictured below:

How many webinars are available on the OLC?

TMCEC offers both live and on demand webinars. Live webinars are typically offered twice a month at 10:00am on Thursday. If you cannot make a live webinar, the webinar becomes available on demand within 24 hours. TMCEC maintains an on demand webinar bank that currently offers approximately 250 webinars. This number can fluctuate as new webinars are added and older offerings are removed if they become dated or obsolete.

How is a webinar different than a virtual seminar?

A virtual seminar is a collection of classes tied together by a topic or theme that are presented sequentially. Webinars are single, self-contained offerings designed to address a focused issue or concern.

Why would someone want to earn some or all their hours via TMCEC webinars rather than a virtual seminar?

Webinars are the best chance at educational freedom within the prescribed rules of judicial education and the clerk certification program requirements. This is an opportunity for court personnel to choose the topics they want to hear and when they want to hear them. They also have the freedom to watch webinars for judicial education credit, CLE credit, clerk certification credit, or any combination.

Webinars are perfect for those that only need a few hours. Perhaps they received 8-12 hours of credit at a virtual or in-person seminar. Webinars can help fill the gap towards meeting minimum hours. Of course, satisfying educational requirements is not the only reason why someone would want to watch webinars. Many people find webinars to be useful to brush up on specific topics or to stay up-to-date with current developments and it is not unusual for viewers to far exceed the minimum hours required by the Rules of Judicial Education, the State Bar of Texas, or the Clerk Certification Program.

Why is the 2021 Academic Year different than other academic years when it comes to webinars?

On March 30, 2020, The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued an Emergency Order Regarding the Rules of Judicial Education. The order suspends all sections of the Rules of Judicial Education that require live, continuous hours authorizing judges to obtain required judicial education hours by electronic means. Under the Rules of Judicial Education, municipal judges are typically required to complete a certain number of continuous hours at a live TMCEC seminar, depending on how long they have been a judge. With this suspension, judges can now satisfy all 16 hours through webinars, should they choose to do so. As written, this order is in effect throughout the state of disaster and for 30 days thereafter.

From the Archives: The Eight Purposes of Courts

This morning, my colleague, TMCEC Deputy Counsel Robby Chapman, presented a webinar on Records. In his introductory remarks he mentioned the Eight Purposes of Courts from Ernie Friesen. In September 2016, I wrote the following about the purposes on an earlier version of this blog. In the wake of this morning’s webinar, now is the perfect time to visit these eight purposes again.

The Eight Purposes of Courts

In 2016, I had the privilege of attending a three day course titled Purposes & Responsibilities of Courts. It was my sixth and final course needed to become a Certified Court Manager (CCM) through the National Center for State Court’s (NCSC) Institute for Court Management (ICM). I was fortunate to be one of 45 court professionals from across Texas that graduated on Wednesday, August 10, 2016. The courses were offered in partnership from NCSC and the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center (TMCEC). All of the courses were wonderfully educational, and I enjoyed them. This final course, led by Dr. Anthony Simones of the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator, was a great way to end the certification program. It really reminded all of us why we do what we do.

One portion of the course identified eight purposes of courts, that and I’d like to share them with you.

1. To Do Individual Justice in Individual Cases

This first purpose really spoke to me as I think it is crucial to remember in our municipal court world here in Texas. In our courts, many of us deal with incredibly high volume. We often say in our training that we see more people in our courts than in all other courts combined. With all of these cases coming before our courts, it is easy to think about “the forest,” but lose sight of “the trees.” Each of these cases involves individual persons, and they deserve individual justice. Each person should be heard and treated with appropriate respect and attention. This means keeping in mind that while the case may be one of dozens we deal with during the course of a day or week, this case is most likely a singular concern to the defendant. To do justice, we must apply the law to the facts before us–the facts of that specific, individual case as opposed to applying some general guidelines that may not be appropriate for the case.

2. To Appear to Do Individual Justice in Individual Cases

This second purpose may sound odd at first. Absent the context of following the first purpose, it would sound empty or even false–as though appearing to be just was the concern more so than being just. And even with the context of the first purpose, this purpose still seems strange on first glance. Isn’t it superfluous? If we are actually doing individual justice, then how important is it to appear to be doing justice? The more I thought it about it, the more important appearing to do justice became.

You’ve probably had times working in the court where you’ve had to deal with an unsavory defendant, a pushy defense attorney, or an angry prosecutor. You may have even thought to yourself that you are going to give this person justice whether they know it or not and move on to the next one. This can be dangerous thinking, however.

Consider the Canon 2 of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. In it we are told that in all of the judge’s activities, impropriety and the appearance of impropriety shall be avoided. This ideal should not be limited to the judge’s activity; it should be the goal of all court staff. We should all promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and not allow an impression that anyone is in a special position to influence the judge.

Appearing to do justice may take a bit more time. It may entail explaining why something is being done, or why something cannot be done. It may entail reassuring defendants of their rights and explaining how they are being protected in the court. Not every defendant will leave getting what they want, but every defendant should leave knowing that they were treated fairly and why the outcome turned out the way it did.

3. To Provide a Forum for the Resolution of Legal Disputes

This may appear to be more closely aligned with a court handling a civil lawsuit, but many of our cases to boil down to a legal dispute. Law enforcement or a city official may feel that a person has broken the law. The accused may disagree and has a right to dispute that. At the court we provide a venue for this to be resolved with fairness and neutrality. It is important that this forum exists, so that people don’t take matters into their own hands.

4. To Protect Individuals from the Arbitrary Use of Government Power

The very existence of our laws reflects our country’s (and by extension our state and city) desire to be ruled by law as opposed to man. Prior to the Magna Carta, the King could act purely on his own without being subject to any checks or limitations. English Barons confronted the King of England and demanded that certain rights be written down and that the King respect those rights and abide by the rule of law.

Centuries later, our system of laws and the structure of our government protects individuals from the arbitrary use of government power. As courts, it is our job to ensure that governmental powers are not abused, but that they follow the law.

5. To Provide a Formal Record of Legal Status

At first glance, this seemed more applicable to a court handling divorces or bankruptcy or immigration, but in reality we spend a good deal of our time and resources documenting everything that happens in our courts. The reason we do this is that it provides a formal record of one’s legal status.

Over 75% of municipal court cases in Texas are traffic cases. The process as well as the outcome of those cases very frequently has an effect on the person beyond whether they must pay a fine. Our formal record and our reporting may determine whether they can still legally drive, whether they can renew their license, whether they can register their vehicle, whether they can take another driving safety course, and how much they must pay for auto insurance. Additionally, our formal record may prevent someone from possessing a firearm in the future, and it may determine  whether they must pay a surcharge or whether they must be committed to jail.

This purpose stresses to me the importance of accurate case files and court reports, and this will be reflected in our academic programs this coming year.

6. To Deter Criminal Behavior

One of the foundations of criminal justice is deterring criminal behavior. What happens to the defendant in our court can serve to deter future criminal behavior. The purpose here is not deterring the criminal behavior of the person before us, but rather deterring criminal behavior in the rest of society. In a nutshell, if people that break the law face a consequence and are held accountable, then others may think twice before breaking the law.

7. To Rehabilitate Persons Convicted of Crime

Rehabilitation probably doesn’t come to mind when you think of the payment of the fine. However, there are many situations in municipal court where rehabilitation can come into play. First of all, driving safety courses are very common and are one way our courts are involved in rehabilitation. The hope is that drivers who complete a driving safety course will become better, safer, and more educated drivers. We hope to rehabilitate their poor driving. Another common example of rehabilitation related to fine only misdemeanors is deferred disposition. A simple conviction and fine may not rehabilitate someone, but if, as a reasonable condition of deferred disposition, a defendant is ordered to complete a drug or alcohol class, attend counseling, or complete community service those can be effective steps toward rehabilitation.

Our laws related to juvenile defendants reflect this rehabilitation purpose most closely. If a young person is convicted of an offense in the Alcoholic Beverage Code, they must be sentenced to a type of rehabilitation such as an alcohol awareness or drug education class, as well as complete some community service.

8. To Separate Convicted Persons from Society

While this is a purpose of courts generally, it is not a central purpose to our courts. It is true that sometimes people are placed in jail by a judge in relation to a fine only misdemeanor, but the purpose is not to separate them from society. The purpose in this situation is to ensure satisfaction of the judgment, when the person has failed to satisfy the judgment.

This purpose can be seen with higher level offenses that do involve jail time. This time separated from society is punishment, and hopefully serves to protect the rest of society.

Reading about and hearing these purposes led me to think about why we do what we do in our courts. I think doing individual justice and appearing to do justice should remain in the forefront of our thoughts all the time as judges, clerks, and court personnel. Perhaps it is no coincidence they are numbers one and two.

Do you agree with these purposes?

I am thankful that I was able to go through this training and become a certified court manager. For more information about these purposes, check out this video:

Understanding the 36th Emergency Order

TMCEC General Counsel Mark Goodner and Deputy Counsel Robby Chapman discuss The Supreme Court’s 36th Emergency Order and the OCA webinar offered on the topic on March 8, 2021.

MG: In the wake of the Governor’s order last week, The Supreme Court issued the 36th Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster on Friday, March 5th. On Monday, March 8th, OCA held a webinar about the changes. You and I were both able to watch this. What were the biggest takeaways for you, Robby?

RC: From a policy standpoint, it was interesting to see the Supreme Court deviate significantly from the direction that the emergency orders had been taking for the last year regarding local decisions on court operations. The 1st Emergency Order a year ago this month included many of the basic provisions that we would see in later orders. But the 26th Emergency Order in September 2020 expanded on this and added provisions specifically referencing Chapter 74 of the Government Code and the authority of regional presiding judges (RPJ) to oversee and approve the operation of municipal courts under the order.  This was supplemented by OCA Guidance in June and then December that required any municipal court to submit an operating plan for approval to the RPJ. The 36th Emergency Order completely removes these references. And as confirmed in the webinar on Monday, authority is essentially being returned to the municipal presiding judges. There are no longer requirements to submit an operating plan or recertify an operation plan to the RPJ and Office of Court Administration (OCA). Based on the trend in earlier orders, this was certainly not an expected change!

A screenshot from OCA’s March 8th webinar

MG: After the Governor’s Executive Order No. GA-34 dropped on March 2, 2020, we all were waiting to see how the emergency orders and guidance from OCA would be affected. We were impressed that we got COVID Update #20 just a few hours after GA-34, but in that update we knew something else was coming before GA-34 went into effect on March 10th. How did you feel about the timing of this 36th Emergency Order?

RC: From a purely selfish standpoint, I thought the timing was unfortunate since we had just wrapped the North Texas Virtual Regional. Many of our talking points in the Keynote became moot with the changes literally one day after we discussed them. I think one of the biggest was the directive in the 33rd Emergency Order that courts “must continue to use all reasonable efforts to conduct proceedings remotely.” (emphasis added). We spent a lot of time discussing this provision, as it was reflected not only in the emergency orders, but also the official guidance from OCA and in a memo released by the Conference of Regional Judges in July 2020. The 36th Emergency Order makes a small, but incredibly important change to that sentence. It now reads, “courts should continue to use all reasonable efforts.” (emphasis added). That is a pretty big change. As any lawyer knows, words matter! That said, the basic provisions from the 1st Emergency Order, though, largely do seem to have been renewed.

MG: You’re absolutely right—but I don’t think it’s selfish. We have worked hard to give judges and clerks the most up to date information. It is a bit disheartening when the latest information becomes obsolete so quickly. When we taught that class we were caught in between the executive order and the emergency order. We talked to them a day or two after GA-34 and a day before the 36th Emergency Order. Although our class has changed just about every time we’ve taught it so far—I imagine that will continue, and we’ll have a chance to teach it again at least 7 more times! Within the 36th order there is certainly some information that we could classify as “more of the same.” For instance, judges have had the ability to modify or suspend deadlines or procedures for some time, and now that authority has been extended until June 1st, 2021. Also, judges can still require or permit anyone to participate remotely without consent and courts are encouraged to use reasonable efforts to conduct proceedings remotely. On the flip side from requiring remote participation, a significant change is that a judge must permit remote participation by any participant other than a juror upon request and good cause. And good cause is not defined for us, so that will be up to judicial interpretation and discussion. In addition to that, is there anything that stuck out to you as a departure from earlier guidance—some new or different information?

A screenshot from OCA’s March 8th webinar

RC: As you know, we talk quite a bit in the keynote that we present at the regional seminars (What Every Judge and Clerk Should Know About the Emergency Orders) about both of the provisions that you highlighted. What struck me in the OCA webinar, however, was a comment that David Slayton made regarding continued emergency orders. One participant mentioned how hard it was for courts to plan when new orders can potentially change the ground rules every 90 days. Anyone that has considered summonsing a jury right now or tried to nail down a jury setting as either remote or in-person will agree with that sentiment. David Slayton noted two things in response to this comment. First, that he felt the Governor’s State of Disaster, which authorizes the emergency orders in the first place, could continue for some time. Possibly years. This would mean that the Governor would have to continue renewing the State of Disaster every 30 days, as provided by statute. I thought this was a surprising possibility. The second thing he noted is that he felt future emergency orders would more likely become less restrictive as time went on, rather than the other way around. If your court is trying to plan dockets 30, 60, 90 days out, I suppose that could make things a little easier in theory.

MG: That’s true. Maybe we are seeing a long and gradual easing of requirements and restrictions.

RC: I want to add that I was excited to see that David Slayton addressed one of my questions. When these types of webinars get going, it is sometimes hard to get your question in. I know that both you and I got relegated to watching the webinar on the YouTube stream when attendance on Zoom was maxed out. Fortunately, I emailed my question beforehand! I asked about a provision that has been in the last couple of emergency orders, and remains in the 36th Emergency Order, that a court “has considered on the record any objection or motion related to proceeding” with an in-person jury trial. I have also seen this language, close to verbatim, in the recently filed S.B. 690, which would codify some type of remote proceedings in the law going forward. Did they forget about the non-record municipal courts and justice courts?

MG: The number of questions that David Slayton fielded and answered was significant. You raise a good point, most municipal courts are not courts of record, yet the guidance does specify to include any objection on the record. Presumably, when dealing with a trial de novo, the objection wouldn’t matter. Slayton recommended that it be noted in the case file, and I certainly think that’s a good practice.

A screenshot from OCA’s March 8th webinar

RC: I agree. With the flood of questions both emailed and in chat, I was grateful he got to that one. Of course, I didn’t ask the question in the flippant way above! The point was, what can non-record courts do to comply with this requirement when there is no transcript of proceedings. This is certainly something a large segment of our courts will have to consider, especially if it becomes law down the line. David Slayton’s suggestion was well taken. We talk to courts all the time about “what’s in your case file” and the importance of documenting what happens in a case. This is important even when your court doesn’t have a court reporter.

MG: I encourage all municipal court personnel to read through 36th Order and watch OCA’s webinar, if possible. I don’t think it is linked to the txcourts.gov website yet. Thanks for talking through this with me, Robby.

TMCEC Unveils New and Improved Website

Mark Goodner, TMCEC General Counsel and Director of Education, sat down with Regan Metteauer, TMCEC Deputy Director, and Patty Thamez, TMCEC Information Technology & Operations Specialist, to discuss TMCEC’s new website design.

MG: March 1, 2021 marked the unveiling of TMCEC’s new website. I love the new look and organization of it, and I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from our constituents. I know both of you spent a lot of time and energy making this happen, Regan and Patty. Can you tell us about the process? What were the primary goals for the redesign?

RM: The primary goal was efficiency. We wanted users to be able to find what they are looking for in as few clicks as possible. Less truly is more. The old website had useful information mixed with dated, less useful information. After all, TMCEC’s website has served as a repository for resources for a long time. So much of the process was filtering the most useful information and organizing it in a user-friendly way. Don’t worry. Nothing was lost. Some information just found a new home.

Part of the process resembled shopping at a home improvement store. Choosing colors reminded me of examining paint color swatches. For any font-aficionados, much time was spent selecting EB Garamond and Roboto.

PT:  The process was complex on many levels. As a team we wanted something fresh, easy to use, and still informative. We have a lot of useful information on our website that many rely on daily. One of the primary goals was to help our constituents find that information efficiently.

MG: It looks so great, and I’ve noticed a very streamlined look and feel to it. Are there any new features of the site that you’d like to highlight?

PT: What to highlight—the entire site is fresh and new!! The announcement section allows you to see the latest news at TMCEC quickly. You can browse and expand an area of interest. We also added an index feature to The Recorder; you can now search for articles by topic, month, or year.

As mentioned above, TMCEC added a new Announcements feature to the website. Click here to visit the new page.
TMCEC’s new index feature for The Recorder. Click here to explore.

RM: New features include large buttons with icons for key website pages, tabs for each constituent type (Judge, Clerk/Court Administrator, Prosecutor, Juvenile Case Manager, and Court Security Officer), TMCEC’s new logo, and more images including a new slideshow. We also reduced the amount of content on the homepage so that important information doesn’t get lost. Users should be able to quickly see where they want to go and how to get there.

TMCEC’s new homepage featuring updated logo, large icon buttons, constituent tabs, and fresh images.

MG: I know our website had (and still has) an incredible amount of content. What was the biggest challenge in this monumental undertaking?

RM: It was like cleaning out your garage. You find things that spark fond memories, things you never knew were there, things you don’t want to let go of, and things you wish you never had. The biggest challenge was the volume itself and making hard decisions on what to keep and the best place for it. However, we had a great team who worked diligently. Like cleaning the garage, it will be an ongoing endeavor. As I said before, nothing was truly thrown away. Some documents just went into the archives.

PT: Organization and simplification of the old website was a big undertaking. The final product reflects the dedication to that goal. I am grateful to all who had a hand in the process. Special thanks to my co-workers at TMCEC and the team at Pallasart.

MG: Thank you both for telling us about the new website’s features as well as the process involved in redesigning it.

TMCEC’s website is still accessed at the same address: www.tmcec.com. Please check it out!

Court Guidance After Governor Abbott Lifts Statewide COVID-19 Restrictions

Governor Abbott issued Executive Order No. GA-34 yesterday (March 2, 2021) relating to the COVID-19 disaster. For many court personnel, the new order raised questions about the effect, if any, on court operations. Thankfully, the Office of Court Administration quickly sent out COVID Update #20. If you did not receive it, I have pasted the update below in its entirety.

Judges, Clerks, and Court Staff:

As you may know, today Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-34, relating to the opening of Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster, that is effective on March 10 at 12:01 am. In the order, the Governor rescinded Executive Orders GA-17 (establishing Strike Force to Open Texas), GA-25 (in-person visitation at county and municipal jails), GA-29 (requiring face coverings), and GA-31 (hospital capacity). The executive order removes operating limits for businesses, encourages but does not require wearing of face coverings, and authorizes county judges to impose certain occupancy limits in businesses and certain other establishments if hospitalization rates are high. GA-10 (daily reporting) and GA-13 (detention in county and municipal jails) remain in effect.

Several of you have reached out to determine how today’s executive order impacts the Texas courts, the Supreme Court’s Emergency Orders, and OCA’s Guidance. Since the Governor did not rescind the disaster declaration, the Supreme Court’s Emergency Orders remain in effect until the Supreme Court rescinds, amends, or allows the orders to expire. The Court’s current general emergency order, the 33rd Emergency Order, is currently set to expire on April 1, unless extended. As has been typical during the pandemic, the Court reviews its emergency orders regularly and was already planning on doing so for the 33rd Emergency Order in the coming days. We anticipate the Court will issue another general emergency order soon, and OCA will revise its Guidance to reflect any changes required by the order at that time.

I will ensure that you are provided any updated guidance or emergency orders prior to the effective date of Governor Abbott’s Executive Order (March 10).

Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us at coronavirus@txcourts.gov.

David Slayton

Administrative Director

Office of Court Administration

If you haven’t yet seen GA-34, here’s a quick summary. Effective March 10, 2021, Abbott ordered that, in all Texas counties without high hospitalizations, there are no COVID-19 operating limits for any business or other establishment, although face coverings are still strongly encouraged when it is not feasible to maintain social distancing of six feet from a person not in the same household. No jurisdiction, however, may require a person to wear or mandate face coverings.

In areas that have seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients exceeds 15% of total hospital capacity, a county judge may use certain mitigation strategies. The strategies include operating limits at no less than 50% of total occupancy on businesses or other establishments, but no operating limits are allowed to be imposed for religious services, public and private schools and institutions of higher education, and child-care services.

Notably, no jurisdiction may impose a penalty of any kind for failure to wear a face covering or for failure to mandate the customers or employees wear face coverings. Trespassing laws, however, may be enforced and violators may be removed at the request of a business establishment or property owner.

The full order can be viewed here.