BEAUMONT - After only a month on the job, Judge Mitch Templeton made good on his campaign promise by hearing a criminal matter in the 172nd District Court – a venue of general jurisdiction that has primarily managed civil cases the past several decades.
Templeton, Jefferson County’s lone Republican district judge, was elected to replace Judge Donald Floyd, who presided over the 172nd District Court from 1989 to 2018.
During that three-decade span, the court entertained countless toxic torts, slip and fall cases and automobile collision lawsuits, becoming a second home of sorts to some of the county’s most prominent trial lawyers, who used their wealth to help keep Floyd in power each election cycle.
Unlike his Democratic rival, Templeton didn’t receive heaps of trial lawyer money and ran on a mildly controversial platform, raising the eyebrows of some in the legal community by promising to hear both criminal and civil matters if elected.
And last month, Templeton did just that by presiding over the commitment case of Christopher Charles Valsin – a case that is both criminal and civil in nature.
“It was a true hybrid,” Templeton said. “The case required a burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt, which is the criminal standard, but was governed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.”
The state of Texas filed the petition July 9 in Jefferson County District Court, alleging that Valsin is a sexually violent predator.
The case was called to trial Feb. 4 and ended three days later with the jury unanimously finding beyond a reasonable doubt that Valsin is a sexually violent predator.
“Our designated criminal courts are working really hard,” Templeton said. “By stepping in and helping, we give them a chance to clear dozens of cases while we resolve this one. The Valsin case fits well in our docket because it’s governed by rules of civil procedure.”
Jefferson County has seven numbered district courts, four of which have been dedicated to civil matters, even though they are courts of general jurisdiction.
By ramping up the 172nd District Court’s duties to include criminal cases, Templeton believes he can get people moving through the system faster so “they’re not just sitting in jail.”
Templeton also believes he can keep the court’s civil docket moving too, saying he’ll expedite lawsuits by limiting continuances and encouraging litigants to enter into a docket control order that is aggressive but realistic.
“We have special trial settings and backup settings for the rest of the year,” Templeton said. “This is our effort to try more cases. We have a significant number of cases on the docket that need to be resolved.
“By moving cases faster, people can move on with their lives faster.”
Templeton’s approach to civil may become standard practice in Texas courts.
Earlier this month, a pair of bills (HB 3336 and SB 2342) were introduced in the Texas Legislature that seek to cut the costs of civil litigation by reducing discovery time and restricting continuances.
Templeton is also presiding over the county’s Drug Court docket in the current judge’s absence.