Houston News & Search
Photo: Yi-Chin Lee, Staff
Houston’s misdemeanor and felony courts will be relocated for the next six to nine months because of storm damage to the Harris County criminal courthouse, the county’s judges announced Wednesday.
The courthouse, which sits on the Buffalo Bayou at 1201 Franklin, had sewage explode out of bathrooms throughout the building, and rain and winds shattered windows and disrupted a chilling system that caused several water leaks.
“The business of the Harris County District Courts is for the most part open,” Judge Robert Schaffer told reporters. “But we’ve had this little storm come about that has caused us to relocate to many places.”
The logistics of moving courtrooms means more than just having judges and lawyers report to a different building. It means physically relocating clerks, probation officers and inmates to facilities that weren’t designed to accommodate criminal court proceedings.
It also means the business of the displaced courts will be disrupted.
Questions about jury duty can be addressed by the Harris County District Clerk at www.hcdistrictclerk.com or call: 832-927-5800
Specific locations for courts will be posted as soon as possible at the following websites and social media sites:
The Harris County Criminal District Courts Facebook Page
The Harris County District Clerks Facebook Page
The announcement comes on the heels of a list of aspirations released by the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association including eliminating court settings except for trials, pleas and contested hearings. Typically, defendants in Harris County come to court regularly, every month or six weeks, to check in. These routine settings can go on for months waiting for things like DNA test results or mental health testing.
“The financial cost to Harris County economy of lost productivity because of court appearances at which defendants’ appearance is required for no good reason has always been huge,” the organization said. “This might have been bearable in ordinary times, but during this emergency Harris County needs every productive person working to rebuild.”
The organization also called for bail amounts to be lowered, except in extraordinary cases, to take into account the financial drain of the storm.
The courts have effectively been closed for two weeks when docket calls for suspects free on bail resume on Monday. People who missed their court date from Aug. 28 to Friday will not lose their bond for not appearing, officials said.
Houston has dozens of state district courts, which are tasked with handling serious crimes, juvenile crime, divorces and child custody cases and high-dollar lawsuits.
The 22 district courts that handle felonies will move to courtrooms in the civil courthouse across the street at 201 Caroline and a block away at the juvenile courthouse at 1200 Congress.
The 15 county courts at law that handle misdemeanor crimes, like shoplifting and minor drug possession, will move across the street to the Family Law Courthouse at 1115 Congress.
The civil courts, family law courts and probate courts will combine courtrooms to make room, officials said.
The gathering of judges on Wednesday emphasized that people with jury summonses up to Sept. 15 need not appear and said there would be few if any jury trials until mid-October. Those trials would likely be civil trials or family law trials, because there are precious few courtrooms with the ability to hold adult suspects in custody while on trial.
The judges also said defendants who are free on bail and have missed court because of Hurricane Harvey, or may miss court in the near future, can expect judicial leniency as long as they are in contact with the court, their bail bondsman or Harris County’s District Clerk’s Office.
Those officials included state District Judge Susan Brown, County Court at Law Judge Paula Goodhart, Civil Judge David Farr, Juvenile Judge Mike Schneider and District Clerk Chris Daniel.
Houston News & Search