Texas’ court backlogs: Progress areas, where to improve
As we close out the year and look toward the 88th Legislature’s first few weeks, Texas’ court backlogs are top of mind. Lawmakers recently examined the issue again in an important committee hearing.
On Dec. 9, the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice took up its interim charge on the backlogs of criminal cases in our state courts. Senators heard from Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Office of Court Administration’s Administrative Director Megan LaVoie about the progress being made, the persistent problems, and long-term solutions.
Where Texas is making progress
The Chief Justice and Administrative Director shared some good news for the criminal dockets. Statewide, the number of jury trials has essentially returned to pre-pandemic levels. This is critical to resolving the backlog, as the setting of jury trials — often even the threat of a jury trial — motivates prosecutors and defendants alike to resolve cases more quickly.
Where Texas can improve
The not-so-good news is that many courts are still making their way through the pandemic-related backlog, often resolving cases that predate the pandemic. As we’ve said over multiple blogs, op-eds and in other places, the backlog is a problem that demands legislative attention.
The recommendations from Chief Justice Hecht and Director LaVoie can be boiled down to three broad areas: more resources, more courts, and more data.
Among the specific recommendations is $6 million in funding for an improved, case-level data collection system. When that data system was mentioned, Senator Huffman on the dais indicated her support for funding this recommendation.
As Legislators are asked to manage a historic $44 billion fund balance this coming session, the time is right to make smart investments in the judiciary that will pay long-term dividends in the transparency and efficacy of Texas courts.
Want to learn more about Texas’ court backlogs? Check out Luis Soberon’s blog, “The impact of Texas’ court backlogs: Strategic Framework.”