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The State of Texas is home to over 29.5 million people, making it the second most populous state in the United States. Texas has an area of 268,596 square miles and is also the second largest state by area in the U.S. The state capital is Austin and the most populous single city in the state is Houston. However, the Dallas-Forth Worth Metropolitan Area, which includes Dallas, Fort Worth, and Tarrant counties, is the most populous area in Texas with a population of over 7 million people living in approximately 1,746 square miles.
As a result of being such a large and populous state, the Texas state court system has over 6 million cases filed, heard, and processed each year. The Texas Courts are made up of three levels: trial, appellate, and supreme. To manage the state’s large caseload, most levels of the Texas state court system have multiple courts handling different matters.
Texas has two separate courts that operate as the highest appellate courts in the state. The highest appellate courts in Texas are the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
The Supreme Court of Texas (SCOTX) is one of the state's highest courts, and serves as the court of last resort for civil and juvenile matters in the state. The Texas Supreme Court is composed of a Chief Justice and eight justices, who are elected to staggered six year terms in statewide elections.
When a vacancy arises, the governor may appoint a Justice, subject to confirmation by the state Senate, who may serve until the next election. Supreme Court justices must be at least 35 years old, a citizen of Texas, and must have practiced law or have been a lawyer and a judge for at least ten years. The Supreme Court of Texas is located in Austin.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has final appellate jurisdiction in criminal cases in the state, making it the highest appellate court for criminal matters. The Court consists of a Presiding Judge and eight judges. These judges are elected by voters across the entire state and their terms are six years long.
The number of matters brought before the Texas Supreme Court each year averages around 1,300, while the Court of Criminal Appeals sees over 4,000 petitions, applications, and original proceedings. The Texas Supreme Court has been involved with many important cases in U.S. jurisprudence, including Lawrence v. Texas, Texas v. Johnson, and Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe.
As the state’s intermediate appellate courts, the Texas Courts of Appeals aim to provide the opportunity for review of decisions of lower courts and to issue timely opinions. The Courts of Appeals have intermediate appellate jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases appealed from District or County Courts.
Each court is presided over by a Chief Justice and has at least two other justices. Currently, there are 80 justices in the Courts of Appeals. Generally, appeals are heard by a panel of three justices. However, if an en banc hearing is ordered, all the justices of the specific court hear and consider the case.
There are presently 14 Courts of Appeals, each with jurisdiction over certain counties in Texas.
The 1st Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over 10 counties, including Austin and Harris. The 2nd Court of Appeals spans 12 counties, including Tarrant and Cooke. The 3rd Court of Appeals covers 24 counties in Texas, such as Bell, Fayette, and McCulloch counties. The 4th Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over 32 counties, including Bexar, Uvalde, and Duval. Covering only six counties, the 5th Court of Appeals includes the most populous county in Texas, Dallas County
The 6th Court of Appeals spans 19 counties in the state, including Franklin, Harrison, and Upshur. One of the largest courts, the 7th Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over 46 counties. The 8th Court of Appeals covers 14 counties, including El Paso, while the 9th Court of Appeals serves 24 counties in the Beaumont area.
The 10th Court of Appeals hears approximately 400 criminal and civil appeals each year and has jurisdiction over 18 counties in the Waco, Texas area. The 11th Court of Appeals spans 28 counties, including Baylor, Gaines, and Knox. The 12th Court of Appeals is a three justice court located in 17 counties, including Houston and Anderson. The 13th Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over a 20 county area and maintains offices in Corpus Christi and Edinburg. The 1st and 14th Courts of Appeal serve the same counties and share responsibilities for handling appeals in that geographic area.
Due to the size of the population, Texas has a three-tiered trial court system, consisting of 464 District Courts, 513 County-Level Courts, and 1,750 Justice and Municipal Courts.
The Texas District Courts are state trial courts of general and special jurisdiction. The Texas Legislature establishes what geographic area each District Court serves, but each county in the state must be served by at least one District Court. Currently, there are 464 District Courts serving Texas’s 254 counties.
District Courts have original jurisdiction in felony criminal matters, divorce cases, cases involving title to land, election contest cases, civil matters in which the amount of money or damages involved is $200 or more, and matters in which jurisdiction is not placed in another trial court.
Most District Courts can hear both criminal and civil cases, but some counties have courts that specialize in civil, criminal, juvenile, or family law matters. There are 13 designated Criminal District Courts.
Each District Court has one judge, selected via partisan election. These judges serve a term of four years. To be eligible to be a District Court judge, one must be a citizen of the U.S. and Texas, be 25-74 years of age, a resident of their district for at least two years, and a practicing lawyer or judge, or both, for at least four years.
To serve its large population, Texas has three different types of County Courts: Constitutional County Courts, County Courts at Law, and Statutory Probate Courts. These courts serve as county trial courts of limited jurisdiction and are run by 513 judges.
The Texas Constitution provides for a County Court in each of the state’s 254 counties, which are referred to as the Constitutional County Courts. These courts may not always exercise judicial functions, but may instead deal primarily with administration of county government.
Constitutional County Courts have original jurisdiction in civil actions involving sums between $200 and $10,000; juvenile matters; probate, but contest matters may be transferred to District Court; and appeals de novo from lower courts or Municipal Courts of record. These courts also have exclusive original jurisdiction over misdemeanors with fines greater than $500 or a jail sentence, such as Class A and Class B misdemeanors.
Since the Texas Constitution limits each county to having only one County Court, the Texas Legislature created Statutory County Courts at Law to help large counties manage judicial functions. There are currently 241 County Courts at Law.
Texas County Courts at Law can have jurisdiction over all civil, criminal, original, and appellate actions prescribed by law for Constitutional County Courts. Usually, appellate jurisdiction is over cases appealed from Justice of the Peace and Municipal Courts. These courts may also have jurisdiction over civil matters involving sums between $200 and $200,000. County Courts at Law typically have more civil jurisdiction than Justice of the Peace Courts, but less than that of District Courts.
In very populated counties, the Texas Legislature created specialized probate courts called Statutory Probate Courts. These courts can be found in 10 of the state's largest metropolitan areas. Statutory Probate Courts have original and exclusive jurisdiction over probate matters, guardianship cases, and mental health commitments in their counties.
In order to be eligible to be a County Judge, a person must be a U.S. citizen, resident of Texas for at least 12 consecutive months, resident of the county for at least six consecutive months, registered to vote in the county, at least 18 years old, not have been finally convicted of a felony from which they have not been pardoned or released, and not have been determined by a court to be totally or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.
The lowest level of trial courts in the State of Texas are the Justice Courts and the Municipal courts. These courts are local trial courts of limited jurisdiction. All Justice Courts and most Municipal Courts are not courts of record, meaning that appeals from these courts are reviewed by trial de novo in the County District Courts.
The Texas Constitution requires that each county establish at least one Justice of the Peace Court (JP Court) with between one and eight Justice of the Peace Precincts. These courts have original jurisdiction in criminal misdemeanors that are punishable only by fine, such as Class C misdemeanors; civil actions involving sums less than or equal to $10,000; small claims; eviction, repair, and remedy; truancy; and magistrate functions. There are currently 807 judges for the JP Courts.
To help manage counties with large populations, the Texas Legislature created Municipal Courts in each of the incorporated cities in the state. Some cities may have more than one Municipal Court. There are currently 928 Municipal Courts with 1,272 judges.
Municipal Courts have original and exclusive jurisdiction over violations of city ordinances, including municipal ordinance criminal cases. Within city limits, these courts have concurrent jurisdiction with JP Courts over Class C misdemeanor criminal cases. Municipal Courts have limited civil jurisdiction, and can handle truancy issues and magistrate functions.
The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, created in 1965 by an amendment to the Texas State Constitution, aims to “protect the public, promote public confidence in the integrity, independence, competence, and impartiality of the judiciary, and encourage judges to maintain high standards of conduct both on and off the bench.”
The Commission is the independent state agency responsible for investigating allegations of judicial misconduct, or permanent disability, and for disciplining judges. The Texas Constitution authorizes the Commission to take appropriate disciplinary action against judges found to have engaged in misconduct or to be permanently incapacitated, including issuing sanctions, censures, suspensions, or making recommendations for removal from office.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct has 13 members, who are not paid and serve six year terms. The members of the Commission include: six judges appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, one from each of the appellate, District, County Court at Law, Constitutional County, Justice of the Peace, and Municipal Courts; two attorneys appointed by the State Bar of Texas, who are not judges; and five citizens, appointed by the Governor, who are not attorneys or judges. The Texas Senate confirms all appointees.
The Office of Court Administration (OCA) operates under the direction of supervision of the Texas Supreme Court and the Chief Justice to provide resources and information for the “efficient administration of the Judicial Branch of Texas.”
The following statistics are some of the highlights from the 2021 Annual Statistical Report:
UniCourt is your single source for state and federal court records, offering comprehensive court coverage and the most complete and accurate dataset available.
Everyday of the week, UniCourt collects all of the newly filed civil and criminal cases in the Texas Courts we cover and lets you search through those new case filings in our CrowdSourced Library™. You can also use UniCourt to track state court litigation and get real-time case alerts sent directly to your inbox. Additionally, UniCourt empowers you to download court documents on-demand without ever having to login to a government court database, and gives you unlimited access to download millions of free state and federal court documents in our CrowdSourced Library™.
UniCourt provides you with access to several Texas State Courts, including many of the largest counties across the state, such as the Dallas County Courts, the Travis County Courts, the Harris County Courts, the Collin County Courts, and the Denton County Courts.
UniCourt also gives you access to court records for all of the federal courts across the state of Texas.
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