Texas courts vary proceedings amid pandemic, judge says state, municipal administration sending mixed guidelines

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ABILENE, Texas (KRBC/KTAB)-Like the rest of the state, Taylor County is following Governor Abbott’s orders of ceased trial by jury throughout this pandemic, but other court proceedings are still happening. But some criminal defense attorneys said they are having trouble navigating which guidelines to follow depending on each court.

Local attorney Randy Wilson said he feels frustrated with the current state court system, as courts are varying their proceedings amid the pandemic. Wilson said he is also concerned for his clients who are inherently anxious to have their cases expedited and whose family members may not be permitted to attend proceedings.

“[Some courts require] appearing at a docket call with a client and the judge is on the bench, and the prosecutor is there, and you’re with the client,” said Wilson. “[In contrast with virtual meetings] where you’re in your office with the clients in the jail and they’ve got him on video, and you’ve got other courts who aren’t doing anything at all.”

Wilson said these variations are occurring not only within individual counties but within individual courts as well.

“I don’t care what the procedures are, but it would much simpler on everyone, if they were
uniform across the board,” said Wilson. “That’s what the judicial commission tried to do, and a lot of the judges aren’t doing it.”

Thomas Wheeler is the 350th Dist. Court Judge. According to Wheeler, Taylor County is following guidelines from multiple entities including Governor Abbott’s office, the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, the Office of Court Administration and local authorities.

“It’s as routine as it can be under the circumstances these days,” said Wheeler.

When asked what a typical day in court looks like in Taylor County, he said right now, there is no such thing.

“There’s real no typical day, because they change a lot,” said Wheeler. “Those restrictions and guidelines are issued a couple times a week.”

Wheeler said Taylor County is conducting most business virtually, and non-essential proceedings are put on the back burner for now.

“Pleas and things of that nature–we’re able to conduct them as they come up and as we’re able to fit them in with the limited resources we have to use,” said Wheeler.”

But, Wheeler said Taylor County at least is prioritizing the health and safety of staff, defendants and legal representatives.


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