Thousands of Cases Backlogged in Cameron Co. Courts
BROWNSVILLE – Right now thousands of cases are backlogged in the Cameron County courts.
That means the county is missing out on thousands of dollars that could be benefiting taxpayers.
Cameron County Court at Law 3 Judge David Gonzalez gets about 75 to 125 new cases in his courtroom every week.
Many of the people coming to his court, he said, are first time offenders.
According to Cameron County Clerk Sylvia Garza-Perez, since 2000, Court at Law 3 has accumulated a backlog of more than 1,800 cases.
Gonzalez said part of the issue has been the lack of space to prosecute all these cases.
"There are still only three working courtrooms for county courts," Gonzalez said, "so it doesn't do any good for catching up with backlog if a court has to shut-down to be able to let another court get their docket done."
According to Garza-Perez, right now Cameron County Court at Law 1 has a backlog of 2,420 cases. Court at Law 2 has 1,545 backlogged cases.
"That's a lot of money - yes it is," she said.
Money, she said, the county is losing out on. Cases handled in these courts can rack-up a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars in court fees and fines.
Part goes back to county's general fund, which is used by commissioners for projects like paving roads to building playgrounds.
During the past fiscal year, Garza-Perez's office collected about $1 million from cases that went before these courts.
"At the end of the day, we follow through with whatever the judge tells us to do, we cannot make that decision," she said. "We collect filing fees and we collect based on whatever fine they get from the courts."
Gonzalez realizes the county courts at law are a financial engine for the county. He said that won't be an influence on how quickly cases are determined in his courtroom.
"I'm aware of it, but that's not something that I can take into account when deciding whether to postpone something," Gonzalez said. "I should not - as a member of the judiciary - I should not be worried about how I dispose of cases, affects the county budget."
In many cases instead of cash payments to the county, judges will allow offenders to pay with jail time or community services.
Two new courts are currently under construction – Courts 4 and 5, which these officials hope will help move along, these backlogged cases.