What is a County Judge?
“The County Judge is the presiding officer of the County Court and has judicial functions as provided by law. The County Judge is elected to govern, presiding over the Court of Commissioners. The Court of Commissioners is obligated to provide a responsive and responsible government for the county.
The duties of the County Judge include the adoption and administration of a budget and the assessment and collection of property taxes from the citizenry to pay for the services funded in the budget. Such county services include the provision of county courts, law enforcement, jails, hospitals, health services, the maintenance of county roads, bridges, dams and other infrastructure. In the process of providing such services to the county the County Judge and the County Commissioners court conduct the business of the county by providing an effective governing administration, contracting for services and overseeing the activities of the county as the elected stewards.
Commissioners Court Judicial Responsibilities
This is an excellent piece from our sister county, Galvestion County, that
does a good job articulating Commissioners Court responsibilities.
Title: Commissioners court’s judicial responsibilities require management
Posted: Thursday, January 15, 2015 12:30 am By RYAN DENNARD
Some recent commentary has suggested the commissioners court may be
“interfering with the judiciary.” Such commentary fails to recognize that
the commissioners court is actually part of the judiciary. County government
is an odd creature. People often assume commissioners court is equivalent to
a city council. It’s not. Commissioners court is a constitutional court with
judicial powers and administrative responsibilities. It’s created by Texas
Constitution Article 5 (“Judicial Department”), which provides, “The
judicial power of this State shall be vested … in Commissioners Courts
…,” along with the state’s other courts.
Like other courts, commissioners court issues “citations, writs and process,
and may subpoena witnesses.” It issues “orders” and “findings.” It can even
hold people in contempt, enforcing it with fines or incarceration. Local
Government Code Chapter 81 lists these powers. State law charges
commissioners court with managing important parts of our judicial system.
For criminal cases, Galveston County Commissioners Court operates a pretrial
personal bond office, under Code of Criminal Procedure Section 17.42, “to
gather and review information about an accused.”
Commissioners court establishes specialty court programs, such as drug
courts, veterans’ courts and mental health courts (Government Code Chapters
121 through 125). Associate judge positions are created and assigned to
particular trial courts by commissioners court under Government Code Chapter
54A and Family Code Chapter 201. Alternative dispute resolution programs for
civil and criminal cases are designed and implemented by commissioners court
under Chapter 152 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 26 empowers commissioners court to hire a
public defender attorney to serve indigent defendants. The medical
examiner’s office, which provides expert testimony in murder and wrongful
death cases, is overseen solely by commissioners court under Code of
Criminal Procedure, Chapter 49. In some counties, that office also operates
a crime lab. Under Chapter 103 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,
commissioners court contracts for collection of court costs, fines, fees,
forfeited bonds and restitution.
Commissioners court supervises and operates the county courthouse and
justice center, assigning courtrooms, offices and other facilities, and may
establish reasonable occupancy rules that even other elected officials must
follow. (The sheriff is responsible for security.) Beyond these specifics,
commissioners court has broad responsibility as the county’s general
governing body. That includes, for example, managing data to help control
jail population, which affects a number of independent elected officials but
is outside any of their individual jurisdiction.
County commissioners can’t do this all ourselves. We employ staff that
assists commissioners court in performing these duties. Bexar County (San
Antonio) Commissioners Court organizes this staff into its “Judicial
Services Office.” Similarly, Galveston County Commissioners Court operates a
“Department of Justice Administration.” Commissioners court has no
jurisdiction inside the doors of any courtroom other than its own. Inside
their walls, each court independently performs its duties assigned by state
law. However, commissioners court has an enormous role managing the judicial
system. When fulfilling that role, commissioners court isn’t meddling. State
law says it’s our job.
Ryan Dennard is a (Galveston) County Commissioner for Precinct 1.