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Williamson County Courts: Dedicated to Keeping You Safe

 
Second General Order Child Welfare Courts

Court Operations in Williamson County
Child Welfare Courts Under the 2020 State of Disaster 
COVID-19 and Related CORONA VIRUS

This Second General Order is issued in response to the Local State of Disaster that has been declared by the County Judge of Williamson County, as well as the declarations by the Governor of the State of Texas, and by the President of the United States, and in confonnance with First Emergency Order Regarding the COVJD-19 State of Disaster issued by the Supreme Court of Texas and the Court of Criminal Appeals 1 (Attached hereto), and any further orders. 

The CHILD WELFARE COURTS FIND, in compliance with the above directives/orders, good cause under Texas Family Code Section I 07.004(e) for court-appointed attorney ad I items to confer with the child or other individual, as appropriate, by telephone or video conference. 

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that court-appointed attorney ad I items are authorized to confer with the child or other individual, as appropriate, by telephone or video conference until June I, 2020, subject to being extended by further orders. 

This order shall be filed with the Williamson County District Clerk and shall be published on the "All District Courts" webpage. 
IT IS SO ORDERED THIS 23RD DAY OF MARCH 2020 

Click here for a signed copy of this order

 
Regarding Court hearings in felony cases if the courthouse is inaccessible due to the Exigent Circumstances created by COVID-19 and related Cornavirus

The Courts of Williamson County remain open, and this order is entered into with the intent of ensuring that defendants in felony cases may be heard in the District Courts with Felony Jurisdiction in Williamson County.

Because of the state of emergency ordered by the Governor, and in compliance with the orders of the Supreme Court of Texas and the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court ORDERS that, until further order, hearings in felony cases are restricted to the following issues:

  1. Pleas;
  2. Emergency Hearings; and
  3. Bail Hearings.

Additionally, because of the public health risk associated with in-person gatherings as articulated in various executive orders issued by the President, Governor, and County Judge, the court ORDERS that EFFECTIVE MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2020, hearings in felony cases shall be conducted exclusively on an electronic basis, and in conformance with the “Procedure for Setting and Conducting Electronic & Telephone Court Hearings in Felony Cases” attached as Exhibit A.

As in previously adopted orders, the Court reminds counsel that we take seriously our obligation to balance the interest of justice and the health and safety of our courthouse community and the community at large, and we request patience as our processes continue to evolve with this exigency.

IT IS SO ORDERED THIS 24th DAY OF MARCH, 2020

Click here for the signed order.

EXHIBIT A

PROCEDURE FOR SETTING AND CONDUCTING
ELECTRONIC & TELEPHONE COURT HEARINGS IN FELONY CASES

  1. Hearings in Felony cases are limited to Pleas, Emergency Hearings, and Bail Hearings. 
  1. Hearings will be conducted electronically using the Microsoft Teams application. In the event a hearing or other meeting is scheduled you will receive an email with a calendar invitation to the meeting. At the appointed time, all invitees will join the meeting by selecting the link provided. 
  1. Counsel may access Microsoft Teams to join a meeting anytime, from any device, with or without a Microsoft Teams account. To join as a guest: 
    1. You will receive an email from the Court with a link to “Join Microsoft Teams Meeting.”  Click on this link. 
    2. It will bring you to a webpage where you can choose to “Download the Teams App” or “Join on the Web.” You can choose either one.   
      1. If you are on a desktop computer, “Join on the Web” is easiest.  Note: You must use Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge as your web-browser to use Teams on the web. 
      2. If you are using a mobile device, downloading the Teams App is easiest. 
    3. It will ask you to allow Teams to use your Audio and Video from your computer (you must have a camera and a microphone), and it will ask you to type in your name and click “Join Now.” 
    4. This will place you in the “Lobby” for the Videoconference to begin. 
    5. The person coordinating the call will let you into the Videoconference once it begins.
    6. Please be advised that the call may be recorded by the Court or Court Staff for record purposes  
  1. Key Parties
    1. District Court Judges will conduct Plea Hearings on a rotating basis.
    2. Other than Plea Hearings, each District Court Judge will manage all other hearings on their respective dockets.
    3. Amber Norton will manage the centralized hearing schedule for hearings involving inmates and will schedule all electronic hearings based on the centralized hearing schedule.  There will be limited time slots available for hearings involving inmates.
    4. Court Administrator of the Court in which the matter is set is responsible for sending out notices of hearings (including Teams invitations).
    5. Sheriff’s Office will manage the paperwork flow in the jail and ensure that signed paperwork is scanned and provided to the Court.

  1. PROCESS FOR SETTING PLEA HEARINGS
    NOTE:  AGREED DISPOSITION REQUIRED PRIOR TO REQUESTING SETTING
    1. After an agreed disposition is reached, the state will email all required paperwork, including the judgement, to the defense attorney.
    2. It should be estimated that, from this point, it will take roughly 2 days to accomplish the remaining tasks needed to schedule a plea. 
    3. PRIOR TO THE SCHEDULED HEARING:
      1. Defense attorney will schedule a time to meet with defendant via phone call taking the following steps:
        1. Call 512-943-1365 to schedule phone call with defendant, and at the same time as the call is scheduled forward paperwork to Jail.Teams@wilco.org
        2. Sheriff’s officers will print out the Plea Paperwork and provide to Defendant prior to scheduled phone call.
        3. Participate in phone call with Defendant.  If Defendant agrees to plea, instruct Defendant to sign plea paperwork and thumbprint judgment. 
      2. Sheriff’s Office will ensure that Defendant signs and provides thumbprint as required. 
      3. Sheriff’s Office will scan and email the paperwork to the Defense Attorney (and retain original)
    4. Once ready to schedule a plea, the defense attorney will email Amber Norton at Amber.Norton@wilco.org, including the completed plea paperwork, to ask for a setting for the plea. 
    5. Ms. Norton will schedule the hearing in an available time based on the hearing schedule set by the Judges.  She will then email the Court Administrator for the Duty Judge for that day, sending the time and date of the hearing and the plea paperwork.
    6. The court administrator will send a Teams Meeting at least 24 hours in advance of the setting to the following distribution list:
      1. Jail Staff:  Chris Watts & Phillip Schmidt to facilitate having the defendant appear via email at cwatts@wilco.org and pschmidt@wilco.org
      2. Jail.Teams@wilco.org
      3. Defense Attorney
      4. The State
      5. The Judge, and
      6. The Court Reporter.
    7. The Court Administrator will initiate the hearing as the “meeting organizer” in Teams.  At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will electronically sign the paperwork and forward to the district clerk for filing.
      1. All originals will be filed with the papers of the Court.
      2. The clerk will email file stamped copy of judgment to jail staff to be forwarded to the defendant.
    8. If it becomes necessary for the defense attorney and client to speak privately, the defendant will have access to a phone which will allow for unrecorded conversations with counsel, and the hearing will be recessed to allow for this to happen.  Teams should be muted from the jail and attorney inputs.
  1. PROCESS FOR SETTING ALL OTHER NECESSARY ON RECORD HEARINGS
    1. Moving party will submit paperwork through eFile, as usual, and should separately notify the Other Party that paperwork is being filed and a hearing is being sought. 
    2. Moving party will contact Court Administrator to request hearing and will advise the Court Administrator as to whether the Defendant needs to be present for the hearing, and whether the defendant is in custody.
    3. If the Defendant is in custody and needs to be present for the hearing, the Court Administrator will contact Ms. Norton to ask for a jail hearing slot (see 5d, above).
    4. The court administrator will send a Teams Meeting at least 24 hours in advance of the setting to the following distribution list:
      1. Defense Attorney
      2. The State
      3. The Judge, and
      4. The Court Reporter.
      5. Jail Staff:  Chris Watts & Phillip Schmidt (if the Defendant is in custody and needs to be present)
      6. Jail.Teams@wilco.org (if the Defendant is in custody and needs to be present)
    5. The Hearing will take place, the Judge will sign necessary paperwork in Odyssey.  The Court Administrator will ensure that the District Clerk is aware that there has been an update to the case.
    6. If it becomes necessary for the defense attorney and client to speak privately, the defendant will have access to a phone which will allow for unrecorded conversations with counsel, and the hearing will be recessed to allow for this to happen. 

  1. PROCESS FOR SETTING NON-RECORD TELEPHONIC CONFERENCES
    1. Party seeking a non-record telephonic hearing will contact the Court Administrator, with copy to the other party, via email asking for a non-record telephonic hearing.
    2. Any necessary paperwork must be submitted through eFile before hearing is scheduled.
    3. The Court Administrator will work with the Judge to set a time and will notify the Judge and all parties of the time, via an appointment.  
    4. The Judge will initiate the conference call and will add the parties into the call.
    5. The hearing will take place.
    6. The judge will direct one of the parties to send an email to the Court and participants confirming the outcome of the hearing.
    7. The Judge will make a docket entry to reflect that the hearing has taken place and its outcome.
 
Important Notice Regarding Court Operations During COVID-19 Emergency

The Governor of the State of Texas has declared a state of disaster due to the emergency created by the COVID-19 Coronavirus. As a result of that, the Texas Supreme Court has authorized emergency action to be taken in order to balance health concerns with the desire to keep the courts open and conducting judicial business. This section of the webpage is intended to provide the most recent status update on the current state of Court Operations in Williamson County.

MARCH 19, 2020 UPDATE

Our goal remains to KEEP THE COURTS OPEN AND OPERATIONAL. By necessity during this emergency situation, open and operational looks different than you are used to. After consulting the relevant orders issued by the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, and in the interest of public health, we have determined that we must prioritize certain matters at the present time. The Judges of the District Courts of Williamson County will handle, as priority, emergent constitutional issues.

These include:

  • Magistration and Bail Setting,
  • Appointment of Counsel
  • Juvenile Hearings
  • Emergency Hearings
  • Habeas Writs
  • Public Health Matters
  • Mental Health Matters

Other matters are important and will receive judicial attention as soon as time allows, however, during this rapidly evolving stage of the emergency, it is necessary to temporarily limit our activities to the emergent constitutional issues listed above. In very short order, once we are certain the constitutional matters are functioning well, our court services will expand.

Attorneys and the public are encouraged to continue to consult this website as an official source of information as to the current status of the District Courts in Williamson County.

Please visit the web page of each court for information specific to that court.

Thank you for your patience as we work to respond to the constantly evolving, and unprecedented situation.

 
Third General Order Child Welfare Courts

Regarding virtual court hearings in a virtual courtroom environment in child welfare cases

Due to the inaccessibility of the courthouse caused by circumstances related to covid-19

The Courts of Williamson County remain open, and this order is entered with the intent of ensuring that CHILD WELFARE cases may be heard in the 395TH DISTRICT COURT, 425TH DISTRICT COURT AND COUNTY COURT AT LAW NO ONE of Williamson County, Texas.

In response to the Local State of Disaster that has been declared by the County Judge of Williamson County, as well as the declarations by the Governor of the State of Texas, and by the President of the United States, and in conformance with First Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster and any subsequent orders, issued by the Supreme Court of Texas and the Court of Criminal Appeals 1(Misc. Docket No. 20-9042 (Tex.) Misc. Docket No. 20-007 (Tex. Crim. App.), accessed at https://www.txcourts.gov/media/1446056/209042.pdf)

Due to the exigent circumstances the Courts require hearings to be scheduled via VIRTUAL COURTROOM TECHNOLOGIES. The CHILD WELFARE COURTS are utilizing Microsoft Teams to set Virtual Courtroom Hearings. Microsoft Teams is a cloud-based team collaboration software that is part of the Office 365 suite of applications. The core capabilities in Microsoft Teams include business messaging, calling, video meetings and file sharing.

Additionally, because of the public health risk associated with in-person gatherings as articulated in various executive orders issued by the President, Governor, and County Judge, the court ORDERS that EFFECTIVE MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2020, hearings in CHILD WELFARE cases shall be conducted exclusively on an electronic basis, and in conformance with the "Procedure for Setting and Conducting Electronic & Telephone Court Hearings in Child Welfare Cases" attached as Exhibit A.

As in previously adopted orders, the Courts remind counsel that we take seriously our obligation to balance the interest of justice and the health and safety of our courthouse community and the community at large.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the party scheduling the Virtual Courtroom Hearing serve notice of the hearing pursuant to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and the terms of this General Order.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the party scheduling the Virtual Courtroom Hearing include instructions sufficient for the opposing counsel and party to make an appearance at the hearing.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the party scheduling the Virtual Courtroom Hearing provide the Court Administrator with sufficient contact information for the attorneys and parties, so that the court administrator is able to calendar the hearing utilizing Microsoft Teams.

IT IS SO ORDERED THIS 27th DAY OF MARCH, 2020

EXHIBIT A

PROCEDURE FOR SETTING AND CONDUCTING

ELECTRONIC & TELEPHONE COURT HEARINGS IN CHILD WELFARE CASES

  1. PROCEDURE FOR SETTING A HEARING
    To set a hearing, please contact the Court Administrator. The Court Administrator will set the hearing by sending the parties an email calendar invitation through Microsoft Teams with a specific day and time for the hearing.
  2. PROCEDURE PRIOR TO THE SCHEDULED HEARING
    1. The County Attorney's Office will distribute to all parties the proposed order(s).
    2. Respondent attorneys/attorney ad I item for the children will schedule a time to meet with his/her client via phone call or other electronic means.
    3. The parties shall confer prior to the hearing and sign proposed orders when possible.
  3. 3:            PROCEDURE FOR JOINING A HEARING
    1. Devices: A participant may access Microsoft Teams to join a meeting anytime, from any smart device, with or without a Microsoft Teams account.
    2. Day of Hearing: On the day of the hearing, the participant will receive an email from the Court with a link to "Join Microsoft Teams Meeting." Click on this link. It will bring you to a webpage where you can choose to either 1) "Join on the Web" or 2) "Download the Teams App."
    3. Participant to join as a guest:
      1. If you are on a desktop computer, ·'Join on the Web'' is easiest. Note: You must use Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge as your web-browser to use Teams on the web.
      2. If you are using a mobile device, downloading the Teams App is easiest. It will ask you to allow Teams to use your Audio and Video from your computer (you must have a camera and a microphone), and it will ask you to type in your name and click "Join Now.''
      3. Please see the link for assistance https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/join-a­meeting-without-a-teams-account-c6efc38f-4e03-4e79-b28f-e65a4c039508
    4. Participant to join with the Teams application: You will receive an email from the Court with a link to "Join Microsoft Teams Meeting." Click on this link and the meeting will open automatically.
    5. Once Participant has joined to the Hearing:
      1. The participant will be placed in the "Lobby" for the Videoconference to begin.
      2. The person coordinating the call will let you into the Videoconference once it begins.
    6. Meeting Recorded: Please be advised that the call may be recorded by the Court or Court Staff for record purposes.
  4. VISUAL/AUDIO CAPABILITY
    1. Visual capabilities: To have visual capabilities, in addition to audio, you must have a computer, smartphone, or tablet with a webcam.
    2. Participant experiencing technical difficulties: If you are unable to use the Teams application or Teams on the web, you can join the meeting by calling the phone number and conference ID in the meeting invitation, just dial the number to join.
    3. Participants without visual/audio capability: For Respondent parents who do not have visual/audio capability there will be a space provided at the courthouse with the appropriate equipment to participate in the hearing. Contact the Court Administrator for additional information.
    4. Visual Appearance: The Court strongly recommends the parties and counsel appear using visual capabilities. If the parties fail to appear visually, the Court may determine it is more appropriate to reschedule the hearing for a date after the disaster declaration lifts.
  5. PROCEDURE FOR HEARINGS
    1. There are several ways the hearing can be conducted:
      1. Counsel may have their client and witnesses physically present in their office.
      2. Counsel may also participate from one location, the client can participate from another location, and a witness can participate from a different location.
      3. If it becomes necessary for the Respondent's attorney and client to speak privately, the Court will allow time for a phone conversation, text or other electronic means communication.
    2. Witness Testimony and Exhibits
      1. Witness testimony will be taken by the Official Court Reporter.
      2. Exhibit Submission and Retention:
        1. Parties will be required to electronically provide the court reporter and opposing counsel/party their pre-marked exhibits no later than 24-hours prior to the hearing.
        2. The Court Reporter will keep and file copies of exhibits per her normal procedure.
    3. Submission and Entry of Orders:
      1. The County Attorney's Office will follow their current procedure and provide orders to opposing counsel/pro se Respondents.
      2. Following submission, the Court will sign orders electronically.

You can find a signed copy of this order here.

 
General Order: Regarding Public Access to Court Proceedings Under the 2020 State of Disaster COVID-19 and Related Coronavirus

This General Order is issued in response to the Local State of Disaster that has been declared by the County Judge of Williamson County, as well as the state of disaster declarations by the Governor of the State of Texas, and by the President of the United States. This General Order is also issued after considering and in conformance with Emergency Orders Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster issued by the Supreme Court of Texas and the Court of Criminal Appeals1.

WHEREAS, the Courts of Williamson County are open, “and every person…shall have remedy by due course of law.” (Tx. Const. Art. I Sec. 13).

WHEREAS, the Courts of Williamson County have determined that there is an overriding or compelling interest to protect the health and safety of the public, parties, and employees of the Court from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and related coronavirus;

WHEREAS, the Courts of Williamson County have determined that the exclusion of the public from in-person court proceedings is essential to reduce the risk to the public, parties, and employees of the Court from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and related coronavirus;

WHEREAS, the Courts of Williamson County have considered that there are reasonable alternatives to total exclusion or closure of court proceedings that will serve the interest of reducing the risk of exposure to COVID19 and related coronavirus while balancing the public’s access to court proceedings.

It is therefore ORDERED that, effective immediately and continuing until further order, if a member of the public desires to observe any court proceedings held in the courts of Williamson County, Texas, the requestor shall contact the court administrator of the court in which the case is scheduled at least 24 hours prior to the date and time of the court hearing to arrange for the requestor to view the proceedings being conducted through remote technology.

Nothing in this order precludes a court in Williamson County from broadcasting hearings in a manner chosen by each individual court.

The contact information for each court administrator is located on Williamson County’s website.1

If you are viewing, please mute your connection to prevent disruption to the court proceedings. VIDEO OR AUDIO RECORDING OF THE PROCEEDINGS IS PROHIBITED.

1 Misc. Docket No. 20-9042 (Tex.) Misc. Docket No. 20-007 (Tex. Crim. App.), accessed at https://www.txcourts.gov/media/1446056/209042.pdf (2. Subject only to constitutional limitations, all courts in Texas may in any case, civil or criminal—and must to avoid risk to court staff, parties, attorneys, jurors, and the public—without a participant’s consent: … b. Allow or require anyone involved in any hearing, deposition, or other proceeding of any kind—including but not limited to a party, attorney, witness, or court reporter, but not including a juror—to participate remotely, such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means; c. Consider as evidence sworn statements made out of court or sworn testimony given remotely, out of court, such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means; d. Conduct proceedings away from the court’s usual location, but in the county of venue, and only with reasonable notice and access to the participants and the public; … f. Take any other reasonable action to avoid exposing court proceedings to the threat of COVID-19….” Misc. Docket No. 20-9044 (Tex.) Mics. Docket No. 20-008 (Tex. Crim. App.), accessed at https://www.txcourts.gov/media/1446178/209044.pdf (… “2. With respect to the First Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster issued March 13, 2020: a. Paragraph 2(d) is amended as follows: Conduct proceedings away from the court’s usual location with reasonable notice and access to the participants and the public; … 3. Courts must not conduct non-essential proceedings in person contrary to local, state, or national directives, whichever is most restrictive, regarding maximum group size.”)

Click here to see the signed order

 
District Judges
 
Special Announcement

Due to COVID-19 concerns, Williamson County Facilities has de-activated access to the back hallway for the Williamson County Bar members. If back hallway access is urgent please contact a court administrator for entrance. Thank you for your patience and understanding.