Bexar County is one of very few Texas counties that employs a “Presiding” or “rotating” system for its civil courts. The presiding system is imposed by local rules, and applies in all County and District courts that handle civil lawsuits in Bexar County, Texas.
Litigants, new and out-of-town lawyers often find the Presiding system confusing. While seemingly perplexing, the Presiding system is not as complicated as it may appear. The following is a simplified explanation of the Presiding System. For a more technical and detailed review, please refer to Parts 2 and 3 of the Bexar County Local Rules.
WHAT IS THE PRESIDING SYSTEM?
Under the Bexar County Presiding system, every pretrial hearing is scheduled on a centralized docket, irrespective of the court designated when the Plaintiff filed their lawsuit. This docket is administered by a rotating judge, known as the “Presiding Judge.”
At any given time, there exists a Presiding Judge for each the district courts and the county courts, who maintain their respective dockets.
WHO IS THE PRESIDING JUDGE?
In District Court, the fourteen (14) civil district judges rotate monthly, and at any given time, one of them is the designated Presiding Judge. The Bexar County District Clerk’s website contains a calendar identifying the schedule for various judicial duty assignments, including Presiding (district court) Judge.
In County Court, the three (3) county court judges who hear civil cases serve monthly terms as Presiding Judge on a successive rotating schedule. A copy of this schedule is generally available from the Bexar County Clerk’s office.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES THE PRESIDING JUDGE DO?
In District Court, the Presiding Judge calls the various dockets of all nonjury matters, including pretrial matters in cases set for a jury trial (except for motions on jury cases affecting trial settings such as motions for continuance). These dockets are called daily at 8:30 AM, 9:00 AM, and 10:00 AM. There is also a 2:00 PM docket on designated days for specialized cases (tax, costs and expunction). At docket call, the Presiding Judge will assign/refer each case on the docket to a judge for determination, based on availability and anticipated length of hearing.
Once the daily docket calls are completed, the Presiding (district court) Judge remains in the presiding courtroom, and stands available to hear miscellaneous matters coming to the court’s attention. Virtually all ex parte requests for relief from a civil district court must be presented to the Presiding Court, including applications for temporary restraining orders, requests for entry of default judgment and requests for writs and other extraordinary relief.
In County Court, the Presiding Judge maintains both the trial and motion calendars. Hearings in civil cases may only be scheduled by written notification (Fiat or Order setting hearing) signed by the Presiding Judge. Likewise, official settings may not be abandoned (i.e., hearings dropped) without permission given by the Presiding Judge. Each Thursday and Friday at 9:30 A.M., the Presiding (county court) Judge calls the docket for civil pretrial hearings. At docket call, the Presiding Judge will assign/refer each case on the docket to a judge for determination, based on availability and anticipated length of the hearing.
Following completion of the daily docket call, the Presiding (county court) Judge will return to their own courtroom, but will maintain availability to handle presiding duties, including consideration of miscellaneous matters coming to the court’s attention.
WHERE DOES THE PRESIDING JUDGE CALL THE DAILY DOCKET?
The district court’s Presiding Judge presides over a designated “presiding courtroom” located at Suite 1.09 on the 1st Floor of the Bexar County Courthouse. Each day, the Presiding (district) Judge will call the centralized dockets in the presiding courtroom.
By contrast, the County Court does not maintain a designed courtroom for the Presiding Judge. Instead, the then-designated Presiding Judge will call the centralized docket in one of two (2) courtrooms: County Court No. 3 or County Court No. 10.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PROS AND CONS OF THE PRESIDING SYSTEM?
For a sampling of my personal opinion, concerning the pros and cons of the Bexar County Presiding System for civil cases, see my blog post. This opinion has been refined over 20+ years practicing law in Bexar County’s civil courts, and after handling hundreds of cases in counties that permanently assign cases to individual judges for handling from start to finish.