In Harris County in Houston, Texas, more than 100,000 cases are pending in the Criminal District Courts. Commissioners in the county recently agreed to approve the use of three visiting judges to help ease the court docket backlog, which is described as “unacceptable.”
The cases are said to be as old as three years, so the $2.5 million emergency proposal to get three visiting judges from outside the county was approved unanimously Tuesday.
Three emergency dockets will be presided by these visiting judges starting August 28 this year. The judges are mandated to provide monthly updates on their progress.
The visiting judges that the commissioners are looking to employ for such positions are retired judges. Their jobs will not be permanent. The commissioners are likewise looking at dealing with the most severe cases first through these three visiting judges.
A portal will be organized so the public can track the dockets, existing judges, administrative judges, and visiting judges. Aside from the judges, five additional clerks will get hired to assist in the expanded operations.
The move to add three visiting judges will be re-evaluated in six months to see if it will make a difference. From there, they will announce if the program will continue or not.
County Judge Lina Hidalgo said before the approval that they should do something about these cases because most of them are dangerous. The cases involve murder, rape, aggravated assault, among other heinous crimes.
Of the 100,000 pending cases, around 40,000 are already past the national standard of the time that it should have been addressed. The piling cases are affected in part by many natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey that caused catastrophic flooding and the current pandemic brought about by COVID-19.