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Saturday, April 20, 2024 at 6:19 AM
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Hutto creates municipal court of record

Hutto creates municipal court of record
Hutto Municipal Court Judge Lucas Wilson

HUTTO — The city’s municipal court is taking steps to become a municipal court of record, a status that will give the city and its residents more options against people who break local ordinances. This type of court has powers similar to a district court or county court at law when it comes to enforcing health and safety or nuisance abatement ordinances.

“It’s difficult to act on code enforcement violations, where to bring them to get corrected, if you don’t have a municipal court of record,” City Attorney Dorothy Palumbo said.

A court of record is a municipal court that is required to keep a formal record and transcript of its proceedings. Hutto’s current municipal court is not required to keep formalized transcripts, though the city has the equipment to do so and the clerks are trained, according to a city official.

“Code enforcement right now is working six or seven properties within the city that are horribly overgrown and we’re not making a lot of headway. We’re probably not going to make any headway just because of the enormous cost to mitigate these properties,” Assistant Police Chief Dwain Jones said. “We don’t have the money in our budget. We have active cases on every one of them right now.”

This is just the type of situation Palumbo says a municipal court of records can help with.

“A court of records can order a property owner to do something, and if they don’t do something there are consequences. You (the city) can clean the property yourself and put a lien on the property to pay for it,” Palumbo said.

The attorney also said a court of records would be able to help in the case of fiber companies destroying people’s yards. The city has received multiple complaints from residents regarding where utility companies dig, and the damage they do.

“The landowners can file a complaint in the municipal court of records and order that company to repair their yard,” she said. “Having a court of records working with the property owners would be a big advantage to get the companies to do what they need today before they even come to court.”

Hutto Municipal Court Judge Lucas Wilson said a court of records is valuable for helping a city deal with large enforcement issues, which Hutto has seen more of as it grows.

“Last year, we had about 240 code compliance cases filed. Prior to that we were only having 50 or 60 a year. So, it’s really going up, kind of stressing the load,” Wilson said.

In addition to having the ability to act on code violations, a court of record has an advantage when it comes to appeals. If a normal municipal court ruling is appealed, the case is often retried basically from scratch by the district court or county court.

If a court of record ruling is appealed, the appeal would generally be heard in the Third Court of Appeals, using the records made during the original trial, the judge explained.

City Council approved moving from a Municipal Court to a Municipal Court of Record by a unanimous vote.

Wilson said that he and the current court clerks meet the state qualifications to operate a municipal court of records, but considering the growing workload, he asked the council to consider another employee during their upcoming budget planning.


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