Lisa Stuart Risner
September 8, 2008
Court Structure of Texas
The Court structure of Texas, including both Criminal and Civil, starts at the Municipal and Justice levels. Justice Courts are established in precincts within each county. There are 254 counties in Texas, and 821 Justice Courts with 821 Judges. The jurisdiction of the Justice Courts are Civil actions of not more that $10,000, all small claims, Criminal prosecution of misdemeanors punishable by fine only (no confinement), and other Magistrate functions. Municipal Courts are established in cities. At present, there are 918 cities with 1,416 Judges. Municipal Court jurisdiction is Criminal misdemeanors punishable by fine only (no confinement), exclusive original jurisdiction over municipal ordinance criminal cases, limited civil jurisdiction in cases involving dangerous dogs, and other Magistrate functions. Justice and Municipal courts are known as local trial courts of limited jurisdiction.
The next level of courts in Texas is the County Courts. There are 494 Courts with 494 Judges. These figures break down as follows: Constitutional County Courts are established one in each county, for a total of 254; County Courts at Law are established in 84 counties for a total of 222; Statutory Probate Courts are established in 10 counties for a total of 18. These County Courts are known as county trial courts of limited jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of the Constitutional County Court is that they have original jurisdiction in civil actions between $200 and $10,000; Probate, of which contested matters may be transferred to District Court; exclusive original jurisdiction over misdemeanors with fines greater than $500 or a jail sentence; all juvenile matters; and, appeals de novo from lower courts or on the record from municipal courts of record. The County Courts at Law hand all civil, criminal, original, and appellate actions Risner – Page Two
prescribed by law for constitutional county courts. In addition, jurisdiction over civil matters up to $100,000, with some courts having higher maximum jurisdiction amounts. Statutory Probate Courts are limited in jurisdiction primarily to probate matters.
The District Courts are the next level in Texas. These are State Trial Courts of General and Special Jurisdiction. There are 437 Courts and Judges, 96 Districts containing more than one county, and 341 Districts containing one county only. They have original jurisdiction in civil actions over $200 or $500, Divorces, title to land, and contested elections. They also have original jurisdiction in felony criminal matters. Juvenile matters that are transferred from County Court are also heard in District Court. Twelve of the District Courts are designated Criminal District Courts; some others are directed to give preference to certain specialized areas.
Next, Texas has the Courts of Appeals, which are the State Intermediate Appellate Courts. There are 14 Courts and 80 Justices which have regional jurisdiction over intermediate appeals from trial courts in their respective courts of appeals districts. Appeals of Death Sentences skip this level and go right to the Court of Criminal Appeals. This is only 1 Court with 9 Justices who have statewide jurisdiction and is the final appellate jurisdiction in criminal cases. It and the Supreme Court (also 1 Court with 9 Justices) are the State highest appellate courts. The Supreme Court has final appellate jurisdiction in civil and juvenile cases.
I live in the 12th District of Texas. The 12th Court of Appeals is a 3 justice court presided over by Chief Justice James T. Worthen of Big Sandy, Justice Sam Griffith of Starrville, and Justice Brian Hoyle of Longview. This Court has jurisdiction of appeals from the trial courts located in a seventeen county district consisting of Anderson, Angelina (my county), Cherokee, Risner – Page Four
Greg, Henderson, Houston, Nacogdoches, Rains, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Smith, Trinity, Upshur, Van Zandt, and Wood Counties.
There are 14 Courts of Appeals in Texas having intermediate appellate jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases appealed from district and county courts. Each Court of Appeals has jurisdiction in a specific geographical region of the State. The number of justices on each Court is set by statute and ranges from 3 to 13. Presently, there are eighty justices authorized for these courts. Each court is presided over by a Chief Justice and has at least two other justices. Appeals are usually heard by a panel of 3 Justices.
Appellate courts do not try cases, have jurors, or hear witnesses. Rather, they review actions and decisions of the lower courts on questions of law disputed issues of fact and allegations of procedural error. In carrying out this review, appellate courts are usually restricted to the evidence and exhibits that were presented in the trial court. The evidence of each case is determined at trial, and that evidence is compiled in a record and the arguments of the attorneys for both sides, and its decision is based both upon the evidence contained in the record and the law pertaining to the facts of the case. Attorneys’ written arguments are presented to the appellate court in a brief. Many of the cases are also argued orally before the Court. After a review of the law and the facts, the appellate court will issue its opinion. Courts of appeals also consider many writs for original relief, such as petitions for mandamus and writs of habeas corpus.
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Justices of these courts are elected in partisan elections by the voters of the geographical areas they serve. They must have the same qualifications for office as the justices of the Texas Supreme Court. Vacancies are filled by appointment of the Governor.
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Texas Constitution, Article V, Section 1 Texas Government Code Annotated § Section 22.201 et seq. (2007). Court Structure of Texas. (2007). Texas Constitution. Retrieved September 8, 2008, from http://www.courts.state.tx.us