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Harris County bringing in more judges to handle backlog of criminal cases

Commissioners unanimously approved Tuesday a $2.5 million budget to fund the judges, who will oversee nearly 1,000 delayed cases.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County is bringing in more judges to clear a massive court backlog blamed for worsening Houston’s crime spike.

Harris County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday in support of the move, which could help fast track hundreds of delayed cases.

They plan to spend $2.5 million to hire three visiting judges and their staff. Those judges would focus on around 1,000 of the most violent cases that have been on the docket the longest. The funding lasts six months.

"Part of the conditions of this additional funding is that the judges and the courts provide us with the data to be able to assess whether this is actually making a difference. So, we will evaluate in six months, and we’ll pivot accordingly,” Judge Lina Hidalgo said just hours before the vote.

Hidalgo hopes to have those visiting judges on board by next month.

“These are experienced judges, many times retired judges, and so we have relationships with folks we hope will join us,” said Judge Hidalgo.

Commissioners also voted in June to spend more than $17 million to hire associate judges for lower-level decisions, expand jury operations, and upgrade police technology like body cameras.

“This technology is working,” said Commissioner Adrian Garcia of Precinct 2. “Our investments are working.”

There are nearly 100,000 criminal cases pending in Harris County’s court system.

The backlog started after Harvey flooded the courthouse in 2017 and worsened after courtrooms closed because of the pandemic.

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