District judges to take part in caseload survey

Marilyn Tennissen Apr. 11, 2007, 4:00am

The Jefferson County District Judges may have a little more work to do next month, but their efforts will help determine if their courts should have a little less work in the future.

The judges met April 9 to discuss participation in a weighted caseload survey being conducted by the Texas Supreme Court. For the entire month of May, the district judges will be asked to document how they spend their time on an hour-by-hour basis.

Jefferson County is one of 80 counties in Texas that has been asked to participate in the survey. The surveys are conducted periodically to help determine if some districts have courts that are overloaded and are in need of additional judicial resources. The survey results can also be used to help the Texas Judicial Council determine if some districts have more resources than they need.

At the meeting in 60th District Judge Gary Sanderson's court, most of the judges agreed to participate in the survey after discussing the merits of the study.

"They want to know where we stand, if we have enough to do, or too many cases," 252nd Criminal District Court Judge Layne Walker said. "But they already have our statistics, they are submitted every month. They know from our reports exactly how busy we are."

Drug Impact Court Judge Larry Gist wondered if May was a good month to measure, since the courts slow down during the summer months as lawyers and other staff take vacations.

Sanderson said the survey includes ways to record vacations or seminar attendance.

172nd Court Judge Donald Floyd said so much of his workload depends on the trial docket.

"If I am in a trial, then I am also spending a lot of extra time preparing for summary judgments on the hearing docket," Floyd said. "How will the survey show that?"

The survey will show time spent on cases as well as non-case related activities, Sanderson said.

Family Court Judge Randy Shelton agreed that so much of the judge's time is spent on administrative work and legal research, and hoped the survey measured more than just the number of cases disposed.

"And I don't think one court, like Family Court, can be measured against another court, like a Civil Court or a Criminal Court," Shelton said.

58th District Court Judge Bob Wortham mentioned a pending legislative bill that would affect the judges in Harris County.

"The bill would make half of the Harris County judges appointed to eight year terms and the other half elected," Wortham said. "It's a sad issue that because of some shenanigans in Austin to manipulate things it has made us suspicious."

After discussions, the majority of the judges agreed to participate in the survey and said they would take advantage of an Internet training session on the survey procedures offered on April 19. Judge Milton Shuffield was not present at the meeting.

However Judge Walker said he would not take part.

"I'm not going to do it. I have a proven track record that speaks for itself," Walker said.

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