TMCEC has fielded questions regarding the authority of municipal courts to implement and use electronic filing, or e-filing, systems. In 2017, the Supreme Court of Texas and Court of Criminal Appeals issued an order, Misc. Docket No. 17-9039, requiring certain courts to adopt e-filing procedures. While municipal (and justice) courts are not included as requiring implementation, a careful reading of this order reveals that it certainly may apply to municipal courts. We would particularly direct attention to three of the rules.
First, although municipal courts are not required to do so, there is express permission to opt in and adopt an e-filing system for criminal cases.
Rule 1.1. The rules govern electronic filing of documents with the clerk in criminal cases in appellate courts, district courts, statutory county courts, and constitutional county courts… A justice court or municipal court may implement criminal case electronic filing. If a justice court or municipal court implements an electronic filing system, the system must comply with these rules.
Second, if a municipal court opts in, it must follow the rules set out in 2017. Once e-filing is implemented, all attorneys must, and all other defendants may, file electronically. However, courts may not reject paper filings from unrepresented parties.
Rule 1.2. … Once a court [implements] electronic filing, attorneys must electronically file all documents, pleadings, and materials filed in that court through the electronic filing portal provided or approved by the Office of Court Administration, except where these rules or other Texas law allow or mandate non-electronic (paper) filing. Attorneys must not file documents through any alternative electronic document filing transmission system, except in the event of an emergency or where these rules provide for the use of the alternative filing transmission system. Unrepresented parties may electronically file documents but it is not required.
Third, the rules specify what e-filing providers are acceptable, generally.
Rule 2.1. Electronic filing must be done through the electronic filing manager established by the Office of Court Administration and an electronic filing service provider certified by the Office of Court Administration or through another electronic filing portal approved by the Office of Court Administration.
The Office of Court Administration (OCA) currently contracts with Tyler Technologies to provide an e-filing system. Although OCA is in the process of re-procuring and restructuring this process, it appears that the new system will also be hosted by Tyler Technologies. Additional information is available here.
The system also allows filing through another portal approved by OCA. Courts considering adopting e-filing should contact OCA for additional information.
Last week, TMCEC hosted its annual Court Security Conference here in Austin. More than 80 court professionals from around the state joined together to hear about and discuss court security from many different angles.
In a session called The State of Court Security in Texas from Hector Gomez, Texas Office of Court Administration’s (OCA) Security Director, he mentioned that OCA has sent a survey to all 254 county courthouses in Texas regarding their court security committees. This survey has not yet been sent to municipal courts, but it will be in the coming months (likely late 2022 or early 2023).
If your court security committee has lost momentum or if it has yet to really take off, now would be a great time to get everything going.
As a reminder, the Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act of 2017 added Section 29.014 to the Government Code requiring municipal judges to establish a court security committee. To read more about establishing the committee read or download the document below.
If you have questions or need assistance, TMCEC is here. Additionally, Hector Gomez and Nicholas Barsetti with OCA are amazing resources. Below is a description of how they may be able to help you and your court.
Yesterday (May 25, 2022), The Supreme Court of Texas issued the 51st Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster. The 51st Order renews the 49th Order with some amendments.
Of note, all courts in Texas may, without a participant’s consent allow or require anyone involved in any hearing or other proceeding of any kind to participate remotely such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing or other means. Courts may continue to use reasonable efforts to conduct proceedings remotely. While criminal cases where confinement in jail or prison is a possible punishment, remote jury proceedings may not proceed over the objection of the defendant or the prosecutor. In all other cases (including municipal and justice court proceedings), remote jury proceedings cannot be held unless the court has considered on the record or in a written order any objection or motion related to moving forward with the jury proceeding at least seven days before the proceeding as soon as practicable if the objection is made within seven days of the proceeding.
Presiding judges continue to be encouraged to adopt minimum standard health protocols for court participants and the public and have the authority to mandate compliance with the protocols.
This order is effective June 1, 2022 and expires August 1, 2022, unless extended.
You can access the order here and a copy is inserted below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
TMCEC will continue to update our materials and presentations with the latest information regarding emergency orders and virtual proceedings.
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.
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.
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.
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: