The cost of a third county court at law will be high, Ellis County Judge Todd Little said. The costs of not pursuing a third county court at law are much higher.
The Ellis County commissioners’ court recently received a letter of intent from the courthouse annex’s five judges, all of whom advocated for the creation of a third county court at law. County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Gene Calvert expressed that he’s overwhelmed with over 3,500 misdemeanor cases a year.
He stressed that he goes through 100-200 cases at a time – all just to get through one week’s docket.
“When I started in '73, we had one misdemeanor court in Ellis County,” attorney Jim Jenkins remarked during the public hearing. “Fast-forward 46 years later, we still have only one misdemeanor court in Ellis County. We’re already way behind.”
The commissioners’ court considered a resolution of support for the creation of the third county court at law during their regular meeting Tuesday at the Ellis County Courthouse. The new court would be constructed in the vacant room next to the 40th District Court and would have the same jurisdiction as the other two county courts at law.
According to the resolution, the new court would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021. Little explained that state Rep. John Wray requested the resolution so he could include it in an upcoming omnibus bill that the legislature is expected to deliberate.
Ellis County Auditor Miykael Reeve made a draft budget for the third county court at law, which amounted to a total of $410,263. Little explained that Reeve created the draft budget by averaging the costs of the other two county courts at law, providing a rough estimate for the proposed court’s annual expenditures.
However, Pct. 1 Commissioner Randy Stinson expressed doubt over the presented numbers, stating that costs for previous courts had increased every year that they’ve been in operation.
“By the time you get ready to start the court, they will have increased by three percent a year,” Stinson stated.
Little responded by stating that the county has saved up reserve funds from the previous budget. He estimated that the county could use 35-50 percent of the reserve fund for court construction until the next budget period, where they could include more of the construction costs into the county's budget.
However, Little stressed that this is an expense that cannot wait, saying that if the resolution were delayed, they would pay the price in other areas of the county’s operations, such as jail expenses.
“What is the cost not to do something like this?” Little asked the court. “If we delay one more minute, we’re doing harm to the citizens and the justice system of Ellis County. We’ve got time now to make our plans go in effect for the next 20 months.”
“We don’t have an option,” he expressed. “We have to support it.”
Pct. 2 Commissioner Lane Grayson made a motion to approve the resolution and Pct. Three Commissioner Paul Perry seconded. The court unanimously approved the resolution 5-0.