TMCEC Wraps Up Its First Virtual Traffic Safety Conference

TMCEC’s first Virtual Traffic Safety Conference comes to an end tomorrow. It was a new experience for us and for most of the participants. Mark Goodner sat down (virtually) with TxDOT Grant Administrator & Program Attorney, Ned Minevitz, to ask some questions about the conference.

MG: Ned, the Virtual Traffic Safety Conference is wrapping up this week. I know you and other TMCEC staff, especially Matthew Kelling, put a lot of time and effort into it. Are you pleased with the result?

NM: Absolutely! With this conference being, to my knowledge, TMCEC’s first full-blown online conference, I was a bit nervous that we would not be able to pull it off—I feared that it may end up being the proverbial “guinea pig” that future TMCEC conference planners looked at as how not to host a virtual conference (laughter). TMCEC’s exemplary staff made sure that this did not happen. I think we all feel a great sense of pride and achievement that we were able to offer such a great conference on the first go. One participant comment stuck out to me. It said “TMCEC has this virtual conference thing DOWN!” How cool is that?

MG: How does this conference differ from other TMCEC virtual offerings?

NM: TMCEC is experimenting with a bunch of different virtual conference formats right now. The Virtual Traffic Safety Conference is a “hybrid” conference that blends synchronous (live) and asynchronous (pre-recorded) content. The sessions were primarily pre-recorded, but we offered two live Q&A sessions with the faculty. Participants were given a window of two weeks (July 27 through August 7) to complete the 12-hour conference at their own pace. We also offered “watch parties” where participants could interact with each other through a chat feature while all watching the same course. Other TMCEC virtual conferences may be 100% synchronous. There are really a lot of different virtual conference formats and at this point we are trying them and seeing what works and doesn’t work. 

MG: Does virtual training have any benefits over live, in-person training? What are the drawbacks?

NM: The most obvious benefit is probably convenience: participants can get the credit they need from the comfort of their living room! And for asynchronous events they can get this credit when they want, so if a conflict arises one day, they can just watch it the next day or that evening. Of course, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction between participants, TMCEC staff, and faculty. We hope to get back to that soon. But if I were to make a prediction, I do not think virtual conference offerings will go away once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. For all of the negatives stemming from the pandemic, I think one positive is that it gave TMCEC the opportunity to explore new and different ways to provide our constituents with the best education possible.

Thanks for the insight, Ned!

Municipal Judge Kirk Noaker Shares COVID-19 Experience

Burnet County Magistrate, Municipal Judge, and TMCEC faculty member Kirk Noaker spoke with Austin radio station KBEY yesterday about his experiences of falling ill and recovering from COVID-19.

Judge Noaker experienced a multitude of symptoms starting with a loss of taste and smell. After being tested, it took about a week to get the test result back. It was a very frustrating experience for Judge Noaker as medications didn’t seem to work. The illness lasted about two weeks for him (and also spread to his wife), and his most troubling symptom was uncontrolled rapid breathing that would last for up to five hours after going to bed. In addition to breathing issues, Judge Noaker experienced joint pain, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, weakness, fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite. The return of his senses of taste and smell seemed to indicate a turn for the better. We are so glad to hear that Judge Noaker is feeling better. Thankfully, he has recovered, but it sounds like it was quite an intense illness.

Listen to Judge Noaker’s experience at the link below, and stay safe!


TMCEC to Focus Exclusively on Distance Learning for Remainder of AY 2020

No More Waiting on COVID-19: More Certainty in Uncertain Times

Dear Judges and Court Personnel:

Because your safety, and the safety of our faculty and staff remain our top concern, TMCEC will not conduct “in-person” events for the remainder of this academic year (ending on August 31, 2020).

The decision was carefully made considering the most recent federal and state health guidelines and the alarming spread of COVID-19 statewide.

We have known since the beginning that no one knows how long the slow, scary carnival ride of COVID-19 is going to last. We recognized early on that the pandemic generates tension between “what was,” “what is,” and “what shall be.”

In April, I told you that TMCEC was planning for two possibilities. One entailed distance learning, the other “in-person” events. By May, we began to understand that as long as COVID-19 haunts us, for logistical and other reasons, TMCEC is not likely, any time soon, to be able to conduct in-person training like we did pre-pandemic. In early June, the last time I wrote you, it seemed like Texas was turning a corner. TMCEC was preparing to gradually resume in-person events. We would begin by “dipping a toe in the water” in early July and hoped to be “waist deep” by August. Since then, however, it has become self-evident, that presently “it is not safe to go back in the water.”

Setting disappointment aside, we are relieved that there is no longer uncertainty regarding in-person training for the rest of the academic year. Sooner or later we will resume in-person training (and it will be awesome). However, at this moment, going forward, TMCEC will focus 100 percent of its energy on distance learning. And though we may have some trepidations, we are excited about beginning this new chapter in the TMCEC saga. (Because it is going to be awesome.)

As a reminder, you can complete your mandatory judicial education or clerk certification hours online (at your own pace) through webinars on the Online Learning Center (OLC). Are you new to the OLC? Do you have questions or need technical assistance? We are here to help. Call 800.252.3718 or drop us an email at

In addition to our newly expanded OLC webinar offerings, which have received high marks and praise, TMCEC has been hard at work planning different virtual events for the next three months. Details on these events are outlined in the attached TMCEC Online Education Guide (July – September 2020). Registration is now open. To register, click here. To stay up to date, visit our schedule of events.

Whether through in-person training or through the internet, TMCEC is committed to making unique learning opportunities for judges and court personnel that are practical and engaging. TMCEC pioneered the use of webinars in Texas judicial education, and we are also ready to blaze a new path in distance learning. We hope you will join us!

Take care. Stay safe.

Ryan Kellus Turner

Executive Director

Texas Municipal Courts Education Center

No, Not THAT Citation! Municipal Courts Not Required to Enter Criminal Citations into New Website

A new website offering citation by publication went live on July 1, 2020, but it doesn’t pertain to the type of citation we are used to handling in Texas municipal courts. Citations (as class C misdemeanor charging instruments) are not required to be entered into the website. Rather, the website pertains to civil matters.

Article 20 of Senate Bill 891 required OCA to develop a searchable website that includes certain types of notices to be posted by law. For clarity, OCA offers the “Laws & Rules” pertaining to this website, which can be seen below.

Notably, the rules requiring change are rules of civil procedure, not rules of criminal procedure. This website does not pertain to criminal citations, as there is not a statute or rule requiring publication of criminal citations.

Some courts grew concerned after receiving a June 29, 2020 email from OCA (COVID-19 Update #11) that included this section:

A quick glance and the fact that citation has multiple meanings under the law led some to believe that this was a new requirement for municipal courts with regard to criminal citations. Rest assured–this does not apply to criminal citations.

Important COVID-19 Resources from OCA

COVID-19 led to significant changes for Texas municipal courts. One excellent resource for information from the Office of Court Administration (OCA) is the Texas Judicial Branch home page at On the page, you will find links to all COVID-19 information at the top of the Announcements Box.

Picture of Announcements box on website.

Included in the Announcements box are links to:

  • All Emergency Orders still in effect
  • Information on Zoom Hearings
  • Court Guidance
  • Operating Plans
  • Court YouTube Channels

Emergency Order 17

Of the five emergency orders still in effect, Emergency Order 17 contains pertinent information for municipal courts. Read the full order here. Some especially important portions for municipal courts are:

  • Municipal courts may modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures until no later than September 30, 2020.
  • Municipal courts may allow or require anyone involved in any proceedings of any kind to participate remotely, such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means.
  • Prior to holding any in-person proceedings on or after June 1, 2020, all courts must submit an operating plan consistent with OCA’s Guidance for All Court Proceedings During COVID-19 Pandemic. Even after submitting a plan, courts must continue to use all reasonable efforts to conduct proceedings remotely.

Zoom Information and YouTube Support

OCA has provided Zoom accounts for all State of Texas Judges. On the Zoom information page, judges can request access, watch a webinar on using Zoom (also avaliable on TMCEC’s OLC here, for Judicial Credit), and find an impressive bank of resources for handling remote court appearances successfully.

Court Guidance

This page offers guidance for courts, as well as an operating plan template. If you haven’t completed your operating plan yet, the operating plan template is a wonderful place to start. Essentially, it is a word document with clickable fields where you can enter specifics regarding your court. Important takeaways from the court guidance are as follows:

  • All municipal courts must submit an operating plan to the Regional Presiding Judge for the appropriate administrative judicial region in order to hold non-essential in-person proceedings. This is the responsibility of the court’s presiding judge. If the court only has one judge, then consider that judge to be the presiding judge. This is a requirement for all courts, not just courts of record.
  • Plans should be developed with and approved by mayors and the city’s local health authority.
  • Plans must be submitted prior to holding in-person proceedings.
  • All proceedings should occur remotely unless court users are unable to successfully participate in a remote hearing for reasons beyond the court’s control. In other words, the court itself should not be the reason remote proceedings don’t occur.

Links to all municipal and county operating plans are available along with a YouTube channel directory where live feeds and recorded proceedings may be viewed.

Please get to know these resources and use them, along with TMCEC’s own COVID-19 resources!

Waiver of Fines and Costs: A Recent History

The waiver of fines and costs has long been a tool for judges when dealing with defendants that have an inability to pay. When and how waiver can be used, however, has changed drastically in the last two legislative sessions. In this entry, we will look at the evolution of waiver before and after recent legislative sessions.

Waiver prior to September 1, 2017

For a judge to be able to waive fines or costs:

1. The defendant had to default;
2. The defendant had to be indigent or have been a child at the time of the offense; and
3. Discharging the fine and costs through community service or another method would have to impose an undue hardship.

While the statute anticipated the waiver of fines or costs, the general consensus prior to the 2017 change was that waiver was an all or nothing proposition at the time of waiver. Partial waiver was not contemplated, and would only have been realistically possible if a defendant was on a payment plan and after making some payments the judge waived the remainder—likely after a change in financial circumstances.

Further, due to the requirement of default, a judge didn’t have clear authority to waive until after there was an order to pay or discharge—because without that order in the judgment, the defendant could not default. So, even if a judge considered a defendant indigent and thought waiver may be appropriate, they would still have to wait until default.

Waiver on or after September 1, 2017

A few important changes happened with the passage of H.B. 351 and S.B. 1913 in 2017. First, the bills authorized courts to waive “all or part of a fine or costs” imposed on a defendant. Second, they removed the requirement for a defendant to default. Third, courts could order waiver if the defendant was indigent or did not have sufficient resources or income to pay all or part of the fine or costs.

For a judge to waive all or part of fines or costs:

1. The defendant had to be indigent or not have sufficient resources or income to pay or have been a child at the time of the offense; and
2. Discharging the fine and costs through community service or other method would have to impose an undue hardship.

These changes also coincided with the requirement for courts to inquire into a defendant’s ability to pay with any in-court plea. With this new requirement and the removal of default as a prerequisite, judges could determine indigence and hardship at the time of judgment. This allowed judges to waive fines or costs “on the front end” so to speak. Additionally, the “all or part” addition clearly permitted judges to be very specific about what they were waiving. For instance, a judge could waive specific court costs that were assessed, but leave some costs and the fine in place. Alternatively, the judge could waive the fine, yet require the payment or discharge of all or part of the costs.

Waiver on or after January 1, 2020

With the passage of S.B. 346 in 2019, waiver changed again on January 1, 2020. Now, under Art. 45.0491, the waiver of fines is distinct from the waiver of costs. Importantly, the requirements for waiver are different for fines vs. costs now.

For a judge to waive all or part of a fine:

1. The defendant has to be indigent or not have sufficient resources or income to pay or have been a child at the time of the offense; and
2. Discharging the fine and costs through community service or other method imposes an undue hardship.

For a judge to waive all or part of the costs:

1. The defendant has to be indigent or not have sufficient resources or income to pay or have been a child at the time of the offense.

Notably, undue hardship is no longer a requirement for a judge to waive costs. With one less hoop to jump through, it is now easier to waive costs than it is to waive fines.

How have these changes altered the practice in your court?

An Important Message: TMCEC Training Summer 2020

As our first entry to our newly rebuilt blog, Full Court Press, I would like to share an important message from TMCEC Executive Director, Ryan Turner, about what lies ahead with regards to live training for the rest of the academic year ending August 31, 2020.

To hear it from Ryan himself, watch the video below:

Ryan Turner, TMCEC Executive Director

In a nutshell, we want you to know the following:

Don’t Wait for In-Person Training

We, like you, are big believers in face-to-face educational experiences. However, COVID-19 has certainly given us new challenges. These new challenges have created opportunities for court personnel to complete needed judicial education hours and clerk certification hours entirely online. Throughout the state of disaster (and for 30 days after) the Rules of Judicial Education have been suspended that require live, continuous, in-person training. This means you can complete your education hours through webinars on TMCEC’s Online Learning Center (OLC). In the three month period (March – June), 8972 webinars were viewed on demand!

TMCEC Plans to Offer In-Person Events

We are first and foremost concerned with your safety as well as the safety of TMCEC faculty and staff. We remain committed to in-person educational experiences, but we don’t know exactly when those can safely happen again. For information regarding registration availability, please check our schedule and registration pages.          

We are Riding the Tiger, not Directing It

Resuming in-person depends on decisions made by state and local governments as well as the resources and physical capacity of hotels which serve as venues for TMCEC events. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, even hotels that are open for business and fully staffed may not be able to accommodate the number of people wanting to attend TMCEC events in-person because of the new safety guidelines.

When events do resume, please remember that even if you submit your registration online, you are not officially registered for an in-person event until you receive a registration confirmation message from TMCEC.

Virtual Conferences

In addition to all the fantastic OLC webinar offerings, TMCEC is also planning to offer online versions of its most anticipated conferences: the Mental Health Conference (August 12-14) and the Bail and Bonds Exposition & Showcase (August 25-26).  Details on how to register for the these conferences will be announced soon.  

We look forward to seeing you virtually!

Fort Worth Court Director Theresa Ewing Receives National Award

Theresa Ewing is the Director of Municipal Court Services for the Fort Worth Municipal Court. Earlier this year, the National Center for State Courts selected Ms. Ewing to receive its 2018 Distinguished Service Award. This award is presented annually to honor those who have made substantial contributions to the field of court administration and to the work of the National Center for State Courts. I was able to sit down with Ms. Ewing recently and ask her questions about the award as well as her work in Fort Worth.

The National Center for State Courts selected you to be the recipient of the 2018 National Center for State courts Distinguished Service Award presented to honor those who have made substantial contributions to the field of court administration and to the work of the national center. How does it feel to have your name next to those words?

Humbling… Terrifying… It’s beyond comprehension really because as I look back on the people who have received this award in the past, they’re all of the people that I look to as my mentors and my heroes of court administration over the years and to be recognized among the legends is just humbling.

You’ve worked in courts for 28 plus years but you came to Texas in 2016. Is there anything that struck you as different about the way that Texas courts work?

I think one of the biggest distinctions between Texas courts in the municipalities is that this is the first time that I’ve ever worked in the executive branch of government as opposed to the judicial branch of government, and so the relationship factor is so much more important. It really is a mutual relationship on how you run the courts as opposed to the judges [in other states’ systems] dictate how the courts are run and your [the court administrator’s] job is to execute those things. You really do have to have a really symbiotic relationship with your presiding judge in order to make the court function. Before, I’ve always worked in an institution where your chief judge gives the directive and you’re required to execute that. It’s a very different dynamic knowing that there’s not a direct report, but there must be a relationship in order to make the court work most effectively.

What are you most proud of about your work with the Fort Worth court?

There are so many things I’m proud of. My most proud moment is, of course, we instituted warrant forgiveness month which was a success beyond what any of us could’ve ever imagined. I think one of the other big undertakings is our cross-training and our actual certification of staff in the TMCEC certification levels because that had not been anything that had been previously pursued. We had staff working in silos and bubbles, and didn’t understand the impact of their jobs versus what happened next in the process. So really pushing to get that education piece done and developing leaders in the future courts—that is really what we should all be doing.

What do you think is the biggest challenge to court administrators you’re so close (either current or coming challenge) that they have to deal with in Texas municipal courts?

I think it’s not just Texas municipal courts, but nationally, is really engaging the public in relevancy. Why are courts relevant in this day and age when there are so many different alternative methods of dealing with disputes? We talk about ADR. We talk about putting pretrial services in place. We’re trying to put different modalities in place, but trying to get people to remember the courts are the neutral party you can go to. Just because you’ve been accused of a crime doesn’t mean that that’s definitive. People forget that’s why we have we have courts. We have courts because they need to have a place they can come to a neutral arbitrator that can say, “State, you did your thing, now I want to hear the other side of the story. Did you do your thing right? Let’s put it together and let’s make a final decision.” That’s why courts exist. And we are forgetting that that’s why we exist even at the municipal court level where we see thousands upon thousands of people that have an opportunity to come to a neutral arbitrator. So education and relevancy, for us, has been a big push because if people don’t understand that that’s the role of the court, that’s where you get fear. That’s where you get noncompliance because they’re afraid to come in and talk to us.

For municipal courts week, we had three different sets of groups come in and do mock trials with us. We had young men and women in high school and junior high walking through metal detectors scared to death about the fact they were coming into a court and they could not believe that we were “nice.” Judge Rodgers and I had an opportunity to talk to all of the groups and say this is what we do with and this is why we exist and have a conversation about judicial versus nonjudicial and the role that the clerks play in the way that justice is administered.

Judge Rodgers and I will say “Does everybody have to be a lawyer to be in the court?” And, of course, most of the kids are kinda like “yeah” Because there are so many roles (non-attorneys) that get performed that actually support the judicial branch and the judicial functions that nobody realizes. With the stroke of a keystroke, we can put people in jail. That’s why we’re so important, that’s why it’s so important to distinguish—I am not a customer service rep. I work for a court. I have the opportunity to help in the administration of justice.

Congratulations to Theresa Ewing on receiving this tremendous honor! Under the leadership of Theresa Ewing and Chief Judge Danny Rodgers, the Fort Worth municipal court is doing great work, and it is wonderful to see this national recognition bestowed upon one of Texas’ own.

On This Day 13 Years Ago, 9-1-1 Call for Help found to be Non-testimonial

On November 2, 2015, The Waco Court of Appeals, in Kearney v. State, 181 S.W.3d 438 (Tex. App.—Waco 2005), found that statements made during a call to 9-1-1 to report an armed robbery in progress were not testimonial. The owner of a Western Union store heard gunshots and saw a masked man waving a gun demanding money. The owner ran out the back door to a neighboring house and called 9-1-1. The tape of the 9-1-1 call was later admitted at trial. The defendant, Kearney, argued that the call should not be admitted because under the Sixth Amendment, he had a right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him. The Court of Appeals said that the Kearney would have those rights if the statements made on the tape were testimonial. Because the call was to report a robbery in progress and to summon help, the statements on the call were not testimonial. The Court looked to a Houston Court of Appeals case Ruth v. State, 167 S.W.3d 560 from earlier in the year for guidance on whether statements made to a dispatcher during a 9-1-1 call are testimonial. The Court used the following guidelines from Ruth:

(1) Testimonial statements are official and formal in nature.
(2) Interaction with the police initiated by a witness or the victim is less likely to result in testimonial statements than if initiated by the police.
(3) Spontaneous statements to the police are not testimonial.
(4) Responses to preliminary questions by police at the scene of a crime while police are assessing and securing the scene are not testimonial.

So while not all statements made during a 9-1-1 call may be non-testimonial, it seems that under Ruth and Kearney that a great many would be non-testimonial as most are initiated by a witness or a victim, and not in response to police questioning.

On this Day 17 Years Ago: A New Frontier

A New Frontier

On this day, 17 years ago. The El Paso Court of Appeals held that not all “split bonds” are invalid in Frontier Ins. Co. v. State, 64 S.W.3d 481 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2001).

In the case, a defendant charged with possession of between 50 and 2,000 of marijuana. A magistrate set bail at $40,000, but set a $20,000 surety bond and a $20,000 personal bond. The defendant posted both bonds. Later, after the defendant did not appear for trial, both bonds were forfeited. The surety appealed the forfeiture saying that split bonds were invalid. The Court of Appeals held that the “split bond” was not invalid pursuant to statutory requirement that Defendant be allowed to make cash bond in lieu of surety bond.

The Court reasoned that while personal bonds and bail bonds are “distinct undertakings,” they were no mutually exclusive and incompatible. The Court was not persuaded by an Attorney General Opinion stating that a split bond was invalid. In Opinion No. JC-0215 (2000), the Attorney General one of the central arguments against a split bond was that the portion that required backing by a surety precluded the option of the defendant posting cash-which violated Art. 17.02 of the C.C.P. The Court, however, found that, in Frontier, nothing prevented the defendant from posting cash in lieu of surety. Likewise, the Court was not moved by an argument that personal bonds and surety bonds were incompatible because a personal bond leads to release “without sureties or other security” under Art. 17.03, C.C.P., and a bail bond does require security.

Keep in Mind

1. This Split Bond is not a Differential Bond

Bonds are found to be illegal when they are differential. Sometimes the term “split bond” is used interchangeably with “differential bond.” They are distinct. In fact, Frontier, has only been cited one time, and it was distinguished by In re Tharp, 251 S.W.3d 598. In Tharp, a differential bond was invalid because a trial court set bond in which a surety bond was 10 times the amount of the cash bond.

2. The “Personal Recognizance Bond” Misperception is Widespread

In light of the recent article on personal bonds in The Recorder (which I blogged about here), it was very interesting to see the Court refer to a $20,000 personal recognizance bond. Remember: that can’t exist. A person released on his or her own recognizance does not provide any security that they will show up for court–rather, they are merely recognizing their obligation to later appear in court. Personal bonds, on the other hand, are forms of security. It is not just a promise, but rather it is a person agreeing to be personally responsible for the bail amount set by the judge or magistrate should the person later fail to appear in court.

3. Your Mileage May Vary

Reasonable minds may disagree—in this case, the Court disagreed with the Attorney General. Then, the court in Tharp distinguished its matter from Frontier. The use of split bonds may not fly in your jurisdiction. Remember, if we are requiring a bond (other than personal), we generally cannot require a cash only bond (see Checklist 1-1 of TMCEC Bench Book). We are setting bail at the amount we think reasonable, and then the defendant can choose how they will post bail bond (cash or surety).
Let me know your thoughts!