Johnson County Sheriff Adam King’s request for an additional bailiff position — presented Monday during county budget planning talks — has yet to be decided upon.
One county commissioner, however, appeared to favor the idea and the project that prompted it.
“Seems like a no brainer to me,” Commissioner Larry Woolley said.
Commissioners will meet again on Monday to continue budget talks and decisions, for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. But whether they approve King’s bailiff request or not, Johnson County will soon get a new court, one that will cost county taxpayers practically nothing.
“I think it’s going to be a great help to Johnson County for a number of reasons,” 413th District Judge Bill Bosworth said. “For one, it’s going to allow a single judge to focus his or her full attention on Child Protective Services cases.”
The new Child Protection Court, scheduled to be up and running by January, will serve eight counties: Johnson, Hood, Hill, Bosque, Erath, Somervell, Palo Pinto and Eastland. Though technically termed the Child Protection Court, the court is commonly referred to as CPS Court.
Child Protective Service cases are allocated among Johnson County’s three district and two count court at laws. The new CPS Court should take roughly 70 or so cases off of those courts, officials said.
“The state takes the counties and divides them into administrative judicial regions,” Bosworth said. “There are 11 of those and we’re in the 8th Judicial Region.”
State legislators four years ago approved the creation of two additional CPS courts for the state. Johnson County may have landed one earlier but for the fact that Parker County was not interested in participating.
“With Parker out of the mix our region didn’t have as high of statistics for need as some of the others,” Bosworth said.
What officials instead did was to add two counties from the 3rd Judicial Region.
“That’s Judge Billy Stubblefield’s region,” Bosworth said. “But [48th District Judge David Evans] will be in charge of this court and will hire the judge.”
Evans, who also serves as a state regional judge, juggles a host of responsibilities, Bosworth said.
“There’s 11 of those judges too,” Bosworth said. “They report to the Texas Supreme Court and act, not really as supervisors. They handle things like when we need a visiting judge, another judge because of a conflict of interest, coordinate training, regional meetings and other administrative things like that.”
Bosworth, in addition to serving on the 413th bench, also serves as the local administrative judge.
“The Texas Local Government Code gives local administrative judges another set of powers,” Bosworth said. “I can move cases from court to court and set hours for the court. I represent the courts when it comes to budgeting, chair meetings when we appoint an auditor or probation director and other things like that. It’s kind of like chief of staff at a hospital.
“The other judges here voted and elected me to that position. Before me [249th District Judge Wayne Bridewell] had served in that role for a long time and then [former 18th District Court Judge John Neill] after him.
“It doesn’t pay anything extra but it’s an honor to hold the position and I don’t mind coordinating things.”
Evans in turn coordinates with Bosworth on certain matters, including the CPS court issue.
“He asked if we had room to host a CPS court,” Bosworth said. “We already have an associate judge who hears child support cases for the Attorney General twice a month in one of our downstairs courtrooms. That judge otherwise travels the circuit hearing those cases in other counties so he wouldn’t be here when the CPS judge is.
“Both of those judges are hired by Judge Evans.”
County Attorney Bill Moore, during Monday’s budget hearings, said the decision to house the CPS Court at the Guinn Justice Center stems from the fact that Johnson County deals with more CPS cases than the seven other member counties.
“Evans asked if we had the space to house the court, which we do,” Bosworth said. “It will be a judge and a coordinator. The state picks up the tab for their salaries, office supplies and all that. The only thing the county has to provide is a space for them and security.”
Which is where the need for an additional bailiff plays in.
King, who maintains an office at the Guinn, told commissioners he will give that up to make room for an office for the new judge.
“That was originally designed to be a judge’s office as it goes with the courtroom down there,” Bosworth said. “But Sheriff King has graciously agreed to move to a smaller office or give that office up if it means we get to host a judge.”
How often the CPS judge will hold court at the Guinn remains to be determined but local officials predict it will be two to three days per week. Otherwise, he will travel to the other member counties to hear their CPS cases.
“That helps us because, by having the new judge based here, we’ll get a little more time out of him or her,” Bosworth said.
The new judge also remains to be determined.
“That position will be posted in September,” Bosworth said. “The state’s budget goes into effect Sept. 1 so technically the court doesn’t exist just yet. They have to post it for 30 days then interview applicants, do background checks and then Evans will hire somebody. Any attorney who does CPS work can apply, another judge or a retired judge. Probably they’ll be able to hire someone in October, November.”
CPS operates under the umbrella of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, an organization additional, unrelated duties as well.
The new court, however, will focus solely on CPS matters.
“CPS situations arise anytime the state removes children from parents based on neglect,” Bosworth said. “That can include cases of babies born addicted to drugs, children abandoned or found in homeless camps, cases of physical or sexual abuse. CPS deals with the placement and best interests of those children. Any criminal charges related to those situations are dealt with in the county or district courts and that will still be the case.”
The new court will benefit the county in several ways, Bosworth and others said.
“There may be a few times when our current courts might have to still hear a CPS matter,” Bosworth said. “But overall, this should take about a fifth of the case load off our existing courts. Also, right now, they don’t have a ton of CPS cases in Somervell County, but [Bridewell and 18th District Judge Sydney Hewlett] have to drive out there to hear those cases when they do. Under the new court we’ll have one judge dealing with those cases and that will no longer be the case.
“As it is now, we’re having to squeeze those cases in between other trials and hearings.
“It should also allow the new judge to hold court in a bit more of an informal manner, which helps because those cases can be emotional. They use an audio recorder in those courts so they don’t need a court reporter.”
Big picture wise, Bosworth said the new court should help delay the need for the county to have to petition the legislature for a new district and/or county court at law for some time.
“CPS cases are very hearing oriented as the scheduling for those type hearings are set by state statute,” Moore said. “So in that respect I think this will free up our five other courts to concentrate on other cases. There’s also the fact that the CPS cases will be going before one judge once this court is set up instead of placement of cases rotating between five judges like we do now.
“For [the county attorney’s office] it really doesn’t affect us much otherwise. The CPS case loads are what they are and don’t really change. The only difference for us is that instead of dividing them up between five courts they will go to one now.
“The big benefit though is, like Judge Bosworth said, help the county as a whole by helping our local judges and pushing forward the time when we’re going to have to add new courts out here.”