Texas Municipal Courts
The Texas Constitution Art. V. Section 1 states; “the legislature may establish such other courts as it may deem necessary and prescribe the jurisdiction and organization thereof. . .” . The “other” courts (meaning those that are not Justice of the Peace, District or County Courts) are municipal courts. Municipal courts share jurisdiction with district courts, county courts, and justice of the peace courts; and this is called concurrent jurisdiction.
Municipal courts have concurrent jurisdiction with justice of the peace courts of a precinct in which the municipality is located. This shared jurisdiction applies to all criminal cases in city limits and on city property in the extraterritorial limits or “ETJ” for crimes punishable by fine only. A “fine only” penalty for a violation means the maximum possible penalty does not result in any jail time but merely pay a fine. This is most often traffic citations.
The governing body of a municipality, commonly city council, may by ordinance provide that the municipal court of record has civil jurisdiction within city limits and the ETJ for purposes of enforcing code violations for dangerous structures and junked vehicles. The resulting concurrent jurisdiction with either a district or county court exists to enforce health and safety or nuisances. Sec. 30.00005 Government Code
Chapter 29 of the Texas Government Code contains the statutory provisions for the creation and jurisdiction of municipal courts that are also statutorily termed “corporation court”. The state legislature in Chapter 29, Section 29.002 has created municipal courts in each of the incorporated cities of the State of Texas. Chapter 30 regulates courts of record. A municipal court of record is one that is required to provide a court reporter to create and preserve a record (transcript of proceedings) in cases tried before the court. If you want to know if a municipal court is a court of record, they are listed here. An ordinary municipal court typically does not create or preserve a record.
The judges in municipal courts are either directly elected or indirectly elected; meaning your elected officials or city council appoint a municipal court judge and since you elected the officials, the voters “indirectly” vote for the judge. Pursuant to Section 29.004 of the Government Code; in a Texas home-rule city, municipal court judges are either elected or appointed per the City Charter, and for general law cities, election or appointment occurs per a city ordinance. It may seem odd, but the Government Code also states that the mayor of a general law city is “ex officio judge” in the absence of an ordinance that either authorizes an election or appoints the judge.
Judges of municipal courts serve two years unless the municipality provides for a longer term. Judges in courts of record serve for either two or 4 years and an ordinance must set forth the definite terms pursuant to Section 30.00006. A municipal court judge that is not reappointed when her two year term is up or within ninety days of the expiration of the two year term automatically continues to serve for another two year term as set out in Section 29.005.
Judges in several court decisions have opined that municipal court judges are not hired, they are appointed, and therefore cannot be fired. Additionally, judges are not employees but are political appointees.
Texas has a judicial branch of government, and the Supreme Court of Texas generally signs orders that affect operations and procedure in all of the courts in Texas, and according to their website there are 940 municipal courts in Texas. The Office of Court Administration, a state agency, operates under the supervision of the Supreme Court and the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court and provides resources and information regarding courts in Texas and its statutory authority are imposed by the Texas Supreme Court and are set out in Chapter 72 of the Texas Government Code.
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our commercial and business litigation practice can be found here.