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!

Three Resources to Inform Your City about Municipal Court

We feel it is very important for courts to share information about issues related criminal justice, municipal courts, fines and costs, and the public perception of the courts with their cities. Here are three resources that you should be aware of:

1. Attend Texas Municipal League’s Annual Conference with City Staff

Not only will spending time with them give you opportunities to communicate about concerns facing the court, but you can encourage them to attend Ryan Turner’s presentation on Thursday, October 11, 2018 entitled “Between City Hall and Municipal Court: How City Officials Can Promote Public Safety and Confidence in the Legal System. The session is in room 204 of the Fort Worth Convention Center from 2:00-3:15 p.m.

2. Share TMCEC’s Webpage for Cities: C3

Last year, TMCEC began a new initiative called C# which stands for Council, Courts, and Cities. It is our goal to provide you with information that you can share with your Mayor, Council, and City Managers on a regular basis. Some of the information may be appropriate to share with editorial boards of your local newspapers or in community forums.

The main feature on the webpage now is The BriefThe Brief contains information that TMCEC thinks your city leaders need to be made aware of. You may adapt it or simply forward it to local leaders as is. Or, even better, set up a bimonthly meeting with your local leaders to educate them about your municipal court.

Currently, there are seven issues of The Brief available, all of which provide and opportunity to communicate with and educate your cities about municipal courts.

The Brief is e-blasted out to all municipal judges. The information for cities can be found at The webpage is still being developed–check back for much more content to be rolled out this fiscal year.

3. Share the Upcoming Video “Role of the Municipal Court”

TMCEC staff attorneys have recently collaborated to update a video that getting a little long in the tooth. The script has been re-envisioned, and production is in progress. Be on the lookout for the completed project in the coming months. There will be some very good information in the video that your city could benefit from. See the following brief excerpt from the upcoming video script:

Because municipal courts are locally funded, operated, and administrated, it is easy to understand why city officials and employees may mistakenly think of municipal courts as a city department. Although municipal courts often appear in various configurations in city organizational charts, it is critically important that cities understand that there are legal distinctions between hosting a state trial court and operating, for example, a police department, a fire department, or city commission.

Municipal courts are state courts and their judges are controlled by the same rules as all other state judges.

Judicial independence entails courts operating free from the improper influence of other parts of government (including employees and officials) and both private and partisan interests. Regardless if it is in a big city or a small town or whether court proceedings are held in city council chambers or in a separate building, judicial independence involves maintaining a figurative distance between city hall and the municipal court. In the context of municipal government, judicial independence means that municipal courts must not act, or be expected to operate, as a rubber stamp for the mayor, city manager, police department, or any other city agency.

Personal Bonds: What I Learned from What You Should Read

In the latest issue (July 2018) of The Recorder: The Journal of Texas Municipal Courts, the article gracing the front page is all about personal bonds. It is informative, straightforward, and succinct. Authors Ryan Kellus Turner (TMCEC’s General Counsel and Director of Education) and Henry W. Knight (TMCEC’s summer intern and a University of Texas Law student entering is final year) taught me a few things that I’d like to share with you.

Personal Bonds are Not Personal Recognizance Bonds

Personal bonds and personal recognizance bonds (or PR bonds) are terms often used interchangeably and naturally this has created a belief that they are the same. They are not. 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.

Not Every Offense is Eligible for a Personal Bond

Only a trial court can allow a personal bond for certain enumerated offenses listed in the code, including capital murder, aggravated sexual assault, and burglary. Please read the article for the full list.

Not Every Defendant can Satisfy a Personal Bond’s Specific Requirements

The Code of Criminal Procedure contains seven requirements including the following: defendant’s place of employment, defendant’s address, and the number and state of defendant’s driver’s license. These requirements would seem to mean that defendants that are unemployed, homeless, or without a license would not be able to get a personal bond.

The authors contend that these requirements limit the utility of personal bonds, and they may not equalize pretrial release for those unable to make “money bail.” This is a conversation that is sure to continue in Texas.

This is just a snippet of what I learned in the article, and I strongly encourage anyone involved in municipal courts in Texas to read it–especially in light of the new Chapter 45 requirements that municipal judges use personal bond to secure appearance for fine only misdemeanors.

Mental Health Summit, Day 2 Takeaways

TMCEC’s Mental Health Summit, Day 2 continued with the great training today. I want to share with you some more of the important points I took away from today’s sessions.

1. Empathy is Something We’re Generally Not Good With, but It is Powerful and has Its Place in Court.

Dr. Brian Sims of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors led a session on Trauma Informed Care this morning. It was great to hear more about this idea that we caught a glimpse of yesterday with Erin Holmes. One of the takeaways this morning was that empathy is powerful and can solid base for successful trauma informed communication. Dr. Sims used the following video I’d like to share with you:

I also found this slide about things to remember regarding trauma to be particularly useful:

2. With Regards to Competency, Courts do have Guidance

In this morning’s second session, Judges David Newell and Ryan Kellus Turner proved to be the greatest power pop duo since Hall & Oates as they led us through case law and statutes related to competency–and of course they liberally sprinkled in multiple pop culture references to keep us all entertained at the same time. Judge Newell walked us through Dusky v. U.S. and the subsequent codification of the definition of competency:

Ryan Turner, then later,let us know that the Code of Criminal Procedure tells us what to do when we don’t find a statute specifically designed for municipal courts:

We should look for guidance where we can in other general provisions and in the common law. He also advised all municipal judges to read and be familiar with Chapter 46B of the Code of Criminal Procedure, even if it is not squarely applicable.

3. Judges can be Leaders in Managing Cases Involving Mental Illness

Judge Steven Leifman of the Miami-Dade County Court, 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida shared with participants how he has worked to change the treatment of mentally ill offenders over the last 18 years. I have had the opportunity to hear Judge Leifman speak three times now, and each time I am reminded of how passionate he is about mentally ill offenders. He explains that proper treatment does not only help the mentally ill, but it in turn improves public safety, reduces recidivism, and saves money in the long run. To read more about Judge Leifman, click here.

These last two days have provided such a wealth of information. Regan Metteauer of TMCEC did a fantastic job of planning and coordinating the event. If we are able to offer a third Mental Health Summit, we hope you will attend.