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October 2015 
News From the Office of Court Administration
High Courts Finalize Criminal eFiling Rules
On October 1, in Miscellaneous Docket Nos.  15-9205 and 15-004, the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals issued a joint order giving final approval to eFiling rules for criminal cases at the trial-court level. The rules make eFiling permissible, but not mandatory, in all counties beginning November 1. 

Clerks and courts interested in offering criminal eFiling should contact their program manager with eFileTexas.
Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission to Hold First Meeting
The Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission, created by House Bill 48 (84th Legislature, R.S.), is charged with reviewing cases in which an innocent defendant was convicted and then, on or after January 1, 2010, was exonerated to identify the main causes of those convictions and make recommendations to prevent such tragedies from reoccurring in the future. The Commission, which exists under the Texas Judicial Council and is administratively attached to the Office of Court Administration, will hold its first meeting on October 29 from 2-4 pm in the Supreme Court Courtroom. More information on the members of the Commission and the upcoming meeting information can be found at the Commission website.
Changes in Liability Laws Require Courts to Update Credit Card Terminals
Nearly every country in the world uses the global standard called EMV (short for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) for bankcard processing because of the technology's effectiveness in protecting cardholder data and reducing counterfeit, lost and stolen bankcard fraud. The United States made the transition to using EMV on October 1. Merchants that accept bankcard payments, including clerks and courts, must implement devices that can read EMV chip-enabled cards or be liable for any fraudulent purchases made at their terminals. While addressing the requirements of EMV payment processing, courts should also evaluate the possibility of simultaneously incorporating other payment technologies, including contactless EMV and Near Field Communication (NFC). Recognizing the need to educate court leaders about this change, the NACM-COSCA-NCSC Joint Technology Committee has released a JTC Resource Bulletin entitled "EMV and Credit Card Liability: What Courts Need to Know."  To find out more about JTC or to access other helpful resources, please visit the JTC website 
Newly Issued Attorney General Opinion Gives Courts Guidance on Open Meeting Requirements
Opinion No. KP-0038
Re: Whether the Open Meetings Act applies to district and county court-at-law judges when they meet to appoint county officials (RQ-0019-KP). 

Last month, the Office of the Attorney General issued an opinion concluding that the Open Meetings Act (OMA) does not apply to meetings in which district and statutory-county court judges meet to appoint county auditors and community supervision and corrections department directors. 

Attorney General Opinion No. KP - 0038 reaffirmed Attorney General Opinion No. JM - 740 (1978) which had concluded that the OMA does not apply to a meeting of judges to select a county auditor.  Because the law governing the appointment of auditors has not substantively changed since JM - 740 was issued, the newly released opinion concluded that JM - 740 was still valid.

Attorney General Opinion No. KP - 0038 also discussed whether a group of judges meeting to appoint a community supervision and corrections department (the "department") director is a "governmental body" under the OMA.  The opinion concluded that a group of judges meeting for this purpose does not constitute "a board, commission, department, committee or agency with the executive or legislative branch that is directed by one or more elected or appointed members" under Sec. 551.001(3)(A), Gov't Code, and is not "a department, agency, or political subdivision of a county or municipality" under Sec. 551.001(3)(D), Gov't Code.

Attorney General Opinion No. KP - 0038 also revisited prior Attorney General Opinion No. DM - 395 (1996) which had opined that a group of judges meeting to appoint a director of a department came within the scope of a "special district" and was a "governmental body" as defined by the OMA.  The General Paxton opinion (KP - 0038) noted that the law regarding the role of judges in the supervision of departments has been amended since the date that DM - 395 was issued and that their role was now limited to the appointment of a department director and fiscal officer and the approval of the department's budget.  See Sec. 76.0045, Gov't Code.  Because of the judges' more limited role under the revised law, the opinion concluded that the analysis of DM-395 was no longer applicable and that "a court would likely conclude that the group of judges who ... appoint the director of a department is not a 'governmental body' as that term is defined" by the OMA.

In summary, because a group of judges gathered to appoint a county auditor or department director is not a "governmental body" under the OMA, their meetings are not subject to the OMA requirement that they be posted.
Annual Verification of Judicial Council Trial Court Activity Report Data
As part of OCA's preparations for the 2015 Texas Judicial System Annual Statistical Report, a report has been sent to each County, District, Justice, and Municipal Court Clerk that summarizes the data received through the Judicial Council Trial Court Activity Reports from September 1, 2014, through August 31, 2015. To ensure that the reports are complete and accurate, each clerk is asked to review the data that he/she submitted.
Each monthly report should be reviewed and checked for errors. Common errors include an uploaded report containing only zeroes; filing, docket adjustment or pending case numbers that are too low, too high, or do not make sense; or typographical errors. Procedures for correcting reports are included with the summary.
Texas received recognition from the National Center for State Courts this summer for sustaining years of prompt and detailed case type data submission and for expanding the number of case types, statuses and dispositions reported.This data verification process is an important step in providing the public with complete and accurate court activity information. In addition, County and District Clerks must be in compliance with reporting requirements for counties to receive Texas Indigent Defense Commission grant funds.

Please contact Judicial Information at or 512-463-1625 if you have any questions or if you need to request assistance in completing this important process. 
Revised Technology Standards Adopted
The Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals recently approved Version 2.5 of the Technology Standards. The latest revision, adopted by the Judicial Committee on Information Technology, makes minor changes to the previous version. The standards can be found at
The Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) and their colleagues at the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University (PPRI) today announced a two-year $400,000 grant award from the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The project will build the "Smart Defense Portal," an internet interface promoting high-quality court-appointed defense systems statewide.
The new Smart Defense Data Portal will integrate local data into a statewide quality indicator system. It will also offer model measures, educational content, and resources to guide counties monitoring the effectiveness of local indigent defense systems. The Commission will work closely with advisors in seven Texas counties to develop the system including Bell, Collin, El Paso, Lubbock, Tarrant, and Travis Counties, as well as the Harris County Public Defender Office. The Public Policy Research Institute will take the lead in implementing development.
Commission Chair Sharon Keller observes, "Our state's indigent defense data systems have been key to many advancements in Texas, including a 150% increase in state investment, routine indigent defense plan and expense reporting to the state, online attorney caseload reports, and an 80% increase in appointed counsel to qualified defendants."  James Bethke, TIDC executive director, agrees, "This project will create an internet-based framework of quality indicators to which all jurisdictions can aspire, and many can attain in the foreseeable future.  It will take us to the next level."

The new DOJ-funded website is a major step forward in a decade-long effort by TIDC to promote the use of data to strengthen local indigent defense systems. The Commission, established in 2002, is recognized nationally for their leadership applying data to indigent defense planning.

University of Texas Law Professor Jennifer Laurin, who studies the role of such systems in policymaking, recently counted Texas among "the key movers and shakers promoting the development of evidence-based policy in the field; to describe their work is to describe the vanguard of the trend."

Today nearly twenty Texas jurisdictions representing forty percent of the state's population have benefited from TIDC funding to increase indigent defense data capabilities. "TIDC has always understood the power of data to improve practice," said PPRI lead researcher Dottie Carmichael.  "We are proud to have helped implement that vision over the years." 
Texas converts 254 county courts to e-filing
By Stephanie Kanowitz

It may be hard to imagine any process still being paper-based these days, but that's how the legal system worked in Texas until recently.

"Before we had e-filing in the state, everything was very much paper-based," said David Slayton, executive director of the Texas Office of Court Administration (OCA). "And that meant basically attorneys and litigants who represent themselves having to deliver documents to the court in paper form."

Legal parties had to mail or hire someone to courier documents to the courthouse, and clerks then had to process the paper and get copies to judges. Ensuing orders were also routed via paper.

There was also the issue of storing all that paper. "Of course any document that was filed with the court was filed and stuck in some file room or warehouses for older files," Slayton said.

Then, at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2014, a man in Dallas filed documents electronically from a New Year's Eve party directly to a Houston court, marking the first mandatory e-filing in the state. Today, all of the state's 254 counties use eFileTexas, a standard platform mandated by the Texas state Supreme Court in 2012 to cover all civil cases in district, statutory county, constitutional county and statutory probate courts.

A clerk now clicks "accept" and transfers the file to the court's case management system.  And no more need for rooms and rooms of paper storage.

A month before the mandate, OCA announced plans to implement mandatory e-filing and contracted with Tyler Technologies, a Plano, Texas-based provider of information management solutions for local governments. EFileTexas was deployed in phases starting with the 10 largest counties and adding more every six months.

Originally given a deadline of being fully operational by July 1, 2016, the system is up and running in all counties, although two sets of counties will move from voluntary to mandatory e-filing in January and July 2016.

Specifically, Texas uses Tyler's Odyssey for Courts system, an integrated solution that includes the Guide and File element, which helps self-represented filers understand the court process. The approach is three-pronged. The first step is to be a "one-stop to file into any court, which is over 560 offices in the state," said Brian McGrath, Tyler's vice president of e-solutions and Texas business operations. "There's only one portal to file at any one of those offices."

From there, the e-filing manager system accepts and distributes files to the appropriate courts, where clerks can review them. Files ultimately land in courts' case management systems.

E-filing includes not only the delivery of court documents in a PDF format, but also case information and all payments, McGrath added.

The e-filing process for attorneys typically takes two to five minutes, McGrath said. Most use word-processing software to generate their document and then convert it to a PDF. After they hit submit, the document and payment information go through a secure, cloud-based system to a consolidated centralized system that Tyler owns and operates on behalf of the state, McGrath said.

"We check that information, make sure it conforms to technical standards and rules of the court," he added. "We make it available for courts to then review so they can make a decision to either accept that document, so it can flow into the court system, or they can return [it]."

After 35 days, Tyler no longer saves the information. "It's not our data. It's the official record of the court at that point," McGrath said.

The state didn't migrate any data over to eFileTexas. Once a court implements the system, all filings must be electronic from then on, Slayton said. All the courts needed to use the platform was Internet access, computers capable of processing the documents and local storage networks to store the e-files.

"This meant in some places there had to be some upgrades to the network speed, for instance," he said. "When thousands of documents are coming in a day in Harris County, [the state's most populous county], obviously the speed to process those needs to be sufficient. Most counties were in a place where they had sufficient Internet speed to do that."

And because the system is web-based, users can access it remotely and via mobile devices.

E-filing has had several benefits, including saving costs by reducing the amount of physical storage space required and increasing efficiency.

"No longer do they have to have a paper case file on somebody's desk before they can perform their work or some sort of action," McGrath said. "At the end of the day, what that means for a general citizen is not only better access to justice, but also lower tax dollars just by way of those general operational efficiencies for the courts."

Looking forward, Slayton said, OCA will start e-filing for criminal and juvenile delinquency cases as well. In fact, that already started last month in Hidalgo County and will broaden to additional counties next month.

About the Author
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.
Research and Practice Spotlight
Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils
The Justice Management Institute (JMI) defines a criminal justice coordinating council (CJCC) as "a body of elected and senior justice system leaders that convene on a regular basis to coordinate systemic responses to justice problems." The following resources may be helpful to justice system leaders interested in establishing or revitalizing a criminal justice coordinating council.

This guide provides a framework for developing and operating a CJCC and looks at how a CJCC can alleviate jail crowding and accomplish other system improvements. The guide includes practical tools such as a self-evaluation questionnaire, checklist for forming a CJCC, a sample charge, and sample bylaws.

JMI's National Network of Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils has produced a number of resources to help guide and inform CJCCs. This paper reviews prior research on the CJCC concept, explores models of organizational effectiveness that are relevant to CJCCs, and discusses managing and sustaining change.

This article discusses the importance of and various ways of measuring CJCC performance. One of the tools discussed for measuring performance and collaboration is the Center for Effective Public Policy's Collaboration Survey instrument. The survey instrument groups 40 questions into five broad dimensions of collaboration.

This report, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, focuses on the shared characteristics of local justice systems that make them effective in the overall administration of justice. Travis County is included as one of the eight county-based criminal justice systems that have been cited as being "highly effective."

For additional information on these or other research and practice topics of interest please contact OCA's Scott Griffith, Director of Research and Court Services, or Amanda Stites, Research Specialist at (512) 463-1625.
Truancy reform bill makes great strides towards keeping students on track to graduate
Ted Wood, Assistant General Counsel - OCA, presents on truancy at the HB 2398 Seminar at Webb County JP4 
Under HB 2398, students who miss school would no longer face fines (unless found in contempt of a court order), arrest and even jail time. Instead, those who come up with unexcused absences would be subject to truancy prevention programs, such as behavior modification plans or in-school community service. If that doesn't work, school administrators can refer students to a truancy court, where the problem will be treated as a civil rather than criminal matter. The court could order students to counseling or tutoring. In a report released earlier this year, Texas Appleseed, an advocacy organization at the forefront of fighting for truancy reform, found that Texas filed approximately 115,000 truancy cases in 2013-more than twice the number of truancy cases, including civil ones, in all other states combined.
The report also found that there is little evidence to support the notion that most truant children are simply "skipping class." Many youth have other pressing problems: taking care of a sick parent, homelessness, undiagnosed special education needs and bullying. Under HB 2398, students who are pregnant, foster children, homeless kids or students who are the principal income earners for their families can't be sent to truancy court.
"Truancy, like school discipline, is a schoolhouse issue primarily, and we want to provide our school districts with discretion and tools," Wood said. "But at the same time we want to give them a floor of expectations."- Highlights of the Seminar can be found here in YouTube: 

Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Missy Medary of Corpus Christi presiding judge of the Fifth Administrative Judicial Region for a term set to expire four years from the date of qualification.

Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Don Clemmer of Austin as judge of the 450th Judicial District Court in Travis County for a term set to expire at the next general election in November 2016. Governor Abbott made the appointment to fill a vacancy created by HB 3153, which passed during the 83rd Legislative Session.

Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht has appointed Michael S. Hull and Mark A. Levin to the Commission to Study and Review Certian Penal Laws created by the 84th Legislature.
Latest national caseload statistics now available
Trial courts in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico reported a combined total of 94.1 million incoming cases for 2013, the latest year for which complete data are available, according to Examining the Work of State Courts: An Overview of 2013 State Court Caseloads, a report by NCSC's Court Statistics Project. In the recently released report, state appellate courts reported 262,230 incoming cases in 2013, which include appeals of cases from lower tribunals and first-instance cases. CSP works with the Conference of State Court Administrators' Court Statistics Committee and state administrative offices of the courts to provide comprehensive and comparable national data on state trial and appellate caseloads. CSP also provides in-depth, state-level statistics via its interactive DataViewer.

Source: @The Center
GAO Report on Social Impact Bonds
On September 9, 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report, Pay for Success: Collaboration Among Federal Agencies Would Be Helpful as Governments Explore New Financing Mechanisms (GAO-15-646), that examined the use of social impact bonds and their potential as well as where the federal government can play a roll.

Social Impact Bonds, sometimes called Pay for Success (PFS), are a concept designed to bring government, nonprofit and for-profit communities together to address serious social challenges. PFS investors provide capital to implement a social service solution to address a challenging area. A third party leverages investors and other resources to address the problem. If that entity can meet specific outcome targets, investments will be paid back along with a profit based on meeting specific targets that also result in government savings. A prime example of where it is being tried out is reduced recidivism rates among former prisoners reentering society. If the service provider achieves agreed-upon outcomes, the government pays the investor, usually with a rate of return, based on savings from decreased use of more costly services. In this example, the savings would come from reducing the number of people returning to prison.

Several of those interviewed by GAO said that PFS offers potential benefits to all parties in the project. The GAO also took a closer look at several state projects and their designs. Many of those programs or initiatives are too new to have definitive results. The GAO report also indicated that of the parties they interviewed there was agreement about three areas in which the government could provide assistance: helping with outcome payments by state and local governments, helping to build capacity initially in a social impact bond project, and providing loan guarantees, which might help localities generate start-up revenue.

The full report can be found at  The highlights can be found at
The Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) has scheduled a webinar on October 28, 2015 at 2pm EST, specifically for court leaders, to provide an overview of Pay for Success. Interested persons can register at:

Key learning objectives for this webinar will include:
  • Overview on key Pay for Success concepts and current field activity
  • Roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders (governments/legislatures, nonprofits, funders/investors, evaluators)
  • Pay for Success Project Lifecycle
  • Opportunities, Challenges, and Common Questions
After registering, the registrant will receive a confirmation email from the Nonprofit Finance Fund containing information about joining the webinar.

New curriculum helps judges prevent Internet-related juror misconduct
NCSC's Center for Jury Studies has developed a new curriculum designed to teach trial judges about juror use of new media, including how to effectively discourage jurors from using these technologies inappropriately during trial and how to respond to allegations of Internet-related juror misconduct. The intended audience is trial judges who sit in courts with jury trial jurisdiction. Appellate court judges may also benefit from much of the material presented. The curriculum consists of three 30-minute modules titled 1) "Juror and Jury Use of New Media: What Do We Know?"; 2) "An Ounce of Prevention"; and 3) "When Prevention Fails."

Source: @The Center
Judicial Training Resource Links

About the OCA

OCA is a state agency in the judicial branch that operates under the direction and supervision of the Supreme Court of Texas and the chief justice and is governed primarily by Chapter 72 of the Texas Government Code.


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