2023 Year in Review: Progress on judicial data in Texas courts

For the Texas judiciary, 2023 will be recognized as a turning point in how we view court data. A year of significant investments and legislative action culminated in a November meeting of the Texas Judicial Council. This important meeting set in motion promising developments for the future of improving data quality and access to our state courts.

The takeaway: The Office of Court Administration is not wasting any time diving into the implementation of new state laws requiring the collection of case-level data.

Texas courts, like many other states, have been gradually working through a pandemic-exacerbated backlog of cases. One challenge has been a lack of data to target investments and interventions in our judiciary. This has limited policymakers and the public to the broadest view of the court backlog and obscured both the work of individual courts and important trends in how certain kinds of cases are decided.

Thankfully, this past regular legislative session saw remarkable progress for judicial data. Alongside a state budget that invested millions of dollars to update our judiciary’s IT infrastructure, the Legislature also passed new laws requiring the collection of new case-level and court-level data. This coincides with other positive developments that make 2023 a banner year for court data in Texas.

A pivotal meeting

On Nov. 3, the Texas Judicial Council met to discuss a range of updates and forthcoming changes to the way that data gets collected and reported by trial courts. Here’s a broad overview of what was discussed:

  • The Council proposed amendments in the Texas Register to formalize some of the new rules around court data reporting that largely follow the language of recently passed legislation. This also includes draft instructions that will be finalized in the coming months. The remaining issues to be addressed are brand new data elements that will be reported in probate/guardianship and mental health cases.
  • The Council meeting also included a presentation of a new “weighted caseload study” — basically, a tool used to evaluate how long it generally takes a Texas judge to handle different kinds of cases. This study can help us determine how many new courts and judges are needed across the state.

While it did not factor in the new courts created by Legislature during the regular session, the study results are nonetheless alarming. Put simply, to meet the current demand of new cases, Texas would need to create six new probate courts, 33.5 new statutory county courts, and 53 new district courts.

A new and improved bail dashboard

Another presentation showed a new and improved bail data dashboard for the Public Safety Reporting system established by bail legislation in 2021 (SB 6 (87-R)). It was noted that this seems to be the first dashboard of its kind in the country.

All of these updates show a commitment on the part of the judiciary to make significant progress towards marshaling data towards a more accountable and efficient judiciary. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht perhaps summarized it best when he said, “It’s the 21st Century for goodness sake.” Thankfully, for the sake of all Texans, the Texas judiciary appears to be moving in the right direction.

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