Earlier this week, an unusually large criminal docket was being processed in the 77th District courtroom by Judge Patrick Simmons.
Over 80 cases were listed for Tuesday, January 24th following a recusal of all criminal cases by 87th District Judge Deborah Oakes Evans.
The move was made after the filing several Motions for Recusal by local attorneys, on their clients’ behalf, that referenced the familial relationship between Judge Evans and her son, newly elected County Attorney Brian Evans.
Going forth, District Court Coordinator Misty Lewis has worked out a new schedule with Judge Simmons to alleviate the heavier criminal case load.
“Our proposal is based on conversations with attorneys who would prefer to have all of their cases set on a single day,” reads Lewis’ email dated January 17th.
With this new schedule, court appointed attorneys are divided for arraignment, pretrial and status hearings so that the case load on each given day might be relatively equal. MRP (Motion to Revoke Parole) and MTA (Motion to Adjudicate) hearings are set for yet another day.
Trial announcement docket will be on the Friday immediately preceding the first Monday of each month, which will remain a jury trial week. Fifth weeks will be assigned as deemed necessary the Judge Simmons.
County Attorney Brian Evans believes the new schedule, beginning in February, with added days for criminal cases, will alleviate the need for large dockets.
“The 77th Judicial District Court can handle the criminal caseload of Freestone County without using a visiting judge/special prosecutor on an everyday basis,” says County Attorney Evans. “In fact, there has been no discussion of the need to bring in other court personnel to handle the cases.”
County Attorney Evans agrees that, on occasion, such services are, in fact, utilized by the County. However, he does not foresee that happening at the expense of taxpayers. “For example, it is common courtesy among the surrounding counties for the elected attorneys and/or staff to handle conflicted cases at no charge,” he says.