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Commissioners Discuss Judge Selection Process for County Court at Law No. 2

(ROCKWALL, TX — July 3, 2019) During its regular meeting last week, the Rockwall County Commissioners Court discussed the process of selecting an individual for the office of judge in the new County Court at Law No. 2.

Following the 86th Texas Legislative Session, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 891 effectively creating a new County Court at Law in Rockwall County on Sept. 1, 2019. The bill also creates a legal vacancy for the office of judge for the new court on that date. The discussion during Tuesday’s meeting centered around one key issue: how will the Commissioners decide to fill the vacancy?

According to an email sent to Commissioner Dennis Bailey from the Office of Court Administration (OCA), per Government Code 25.009, the Commissioners Court is responsible for appointing someone to fill the position. However, the code doesn’t mention a particular timeframe for when the Commissioners must make that appointment. The email stated that the Commissioners can wait until after the 2020 election to appoint. If they choose not to appoint, than the position will be filled by the election.

“My interpretation of this is that we don’t have to do anything, and we can allow the election to speak for us in that process,” Bailey said. “I think we have the luxury of waiting to see who files in what political party. Then we can see whether or not there are candidates in one particular party at the end of that primary the following year. You could, at that point in time, appoint the individual who clearly won the primary. If you have a candidate in both parties, then you’re going to have to wait until after the general election to know who has won. Then you could either appoint before January 1, or just let the election call for the winner.”

Commissioner Lee Gilbert said for the Commissioners to make an informed decision, they would need to determine when they want the new court to come into existence. “If this Commissioners Court chooses not to make an appointment, at least until after the election in November 2020, then we have made the decision that we’re not going to put a new court in until 2021. If we want the court in 2020 then we need to make an appointment.”

On top of the how and the when, there’s another unknown: where would the new court operate? In a temporary room in the courthouse on Yellowjacket Lane, or in its own designated courtroom?

“There’s a lot of pieces that have to fall into place – budget-wise, building-wise and everything else – before we can say what we’re going to do to fill the vacancy,” said Commissioner Cliff Sevier.

“We built the courthouse to handle all of the courts we’re going to need in this county,” said Commissioner David Magness. “I’m a pay-as-you-go type of guy, and I think that if we’re going to have a court, we ought to have a courtroom. I’m not too high on doing a temporary room. I think we have the wherewithal to take care of that, and I think it’s an important part of the process.”

Magness said those decisions would have to be made in a future meeting with all Commissioners Court members present (County Judge David Sweet was absent from the meeting, as he was attending the Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas Leadership Day event at the White House in Washington, D.C.).

“I want to thank Cliff [Sevier] for getting this on the agenda for discussion today, so that people who wish to come talk to us about it can know each of our positions on it,” Bailey said. “My position is to either not appoint until we have a clearly elected person, or appoint someone who’s not going to run for that particular office in the election.”

The Commissioners Court will hold its next regular meeting on Tuesday, July 9, at 9 a.m. in the third floor courtroom of the downtown Historic County Courthouse (101 E Rusk St.).

By Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News.

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