On Tuesday, Bexar County commissioners approved over $3.3 million in funding for the courts to handle a spike in domestic violence cases that has caused a significant backlog.
Money was awarded to both criminal and civil courts, but the majority went to the criminal courts, which need serious help cutting down on backlogged misdemeanor family violence cases.
A little more than $2.3 million was awarded to the county courts-at-law or the criminal courts.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff had to call an emergency special session to approve the crucial resources.
“You have cases that are pending for years. Case after case getting dismissed because maybe they couldn’t find the complainant,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez.
Office of Court Administration (OCA) data shows that from FY 2016-17 to FY 2020-21, annual misdemeanor family violence assault case filings have increased by 15.2%. It also shows that family violence assault cases pending increased by 140.5% in that same period.
Both numbers spiked after the COVID-19 lockdowns were lifted.
Family Violence Assault Cases | Courtesy: Bexar County OCA
“Justice isn’t served,” Rodriguez said. “We want to give you the resources to address and prevent.”
Those resources approved Tuesday include $2.3 million to hire two visiting judges and their full staff to help our family violence courts tackle their overwhelming caseload.
Most of those positions would be temporary to address the immediate need, and then resources would be reassessed once the backlog dissipates.
Pre-pandemic approach with two visiting judge courts | Courtesy: Bexar County OCA
The Commissioners Court also approved 14 new positions to accompany those new judges:
6 prosecutors2 advocates2 investigators4 crime victim liaisons
The last piece of the funding included two coordinators for the Bexar County Family Justice Center to help high-risk victims.
Though it may sound like a lot, the commissioners said this is only a bandage for the massive problem, and they plan on doing much more to address it.
“You guys get 20 new cases every day,” Pct. 3 Commissioner Trish DeBerry said to District Attorney Joe Gonzales. “If you think of what that is over the course of a year…”
Gonzales responded, “It’s 7,200 cases a year.”
Before voting unanimously to approve the funding, they agreed that, in the new year, they would consider adding more investigators who can contact victims within 24 hours of reporting a crime.
“I still feel very strongly that we do not have enough investigators in this proposal. We asked for 11, and you recommended two. I’d like to see at least four more added to that,” DeBerry said, explaining that the more investigators, the quicker they can access victims, get them to safety, and make sure their cases are heard.
Commissioners also plan to approve more funding for a list of nonprofits that support local victims.
As for the civil courts, the commissioners court also approved almost $415,000 to add a district clerk position, associated supplies and equipment, and a bailiff.
About half of that money will fund the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid to provide abuse victims and their children legal services.
The last item funded separately from the criminal and civil courts was about $542,000 for new GPS watches that certain perpetrators will be mandated to wear. The technology will alert victims via phone notifications when their abuser is near them.
That funding includes two pretrial bond officers for compliance and supervision of the On Time Watch Technology. If perpetrators try to cut the watch off, it will notify them, and further charges could be added.
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