By Kathi Bliss
For the first time in several years, a new court was in session in Caldwell County this week, as County Judge Tom Bonn chose to begin hearing a limited scope of legal matters this week.
According to the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) a County Judge in Texas may have judicial responsibility for some criminal, civil and probate matters; historically in Caldwell County, those matters have been taken up by the County Court at Law Judge, while the County Judge oversees the administrative functions for the county, such as budgeting and overseeing the Commissioners’ Court.
On Monday, Bonn opened the door to the Caldwell County Probate Court, where he is expected to hear certain civil cases, as well as uncontested probate matters.
In counties where the County Judge performs dual administrative and judicial roles, that judge is eligible for an annual stipend from the State of Texas, up to $15,000, in addition to the salary paid from the county budget. According to the Texas Government Code (Sec. 26.006), in order to receive the stipend, at least 40 percent of the County Judge’s functions must be judicial functions; the Commissioners’ Court in a county where the County Judge receives the stipend is not allowed to reduce the salary of the County Judge’s Office as a result of that stipend.
Bonn’s county salary for the 2012-2013 fiscal year is set at $48,146.
There have been no recent public complaints about a docket backlog in the Caldwell County Court at Law, which has been presided over for several years by Judge Edward Jarrett. However, easing a potential backlog would be one of the reasons why a County Judge who has historically performed administrative duties would decide to begin presiding over cases.
Bonn did not immediately respond to an email requesting information about his decision to begin hearing cases, which included questions as to how often he intends to hear cases, what legal education he has received, or what spurred his decision to hear legal cases.
He also did not respond to phone calls and messages following up on that email.