Let me preface the rest of this blog with a disclaimer this is not a personal attack on any office holder it is simply an attempt to clarify what has been said several times by one of our local elected officials. I am not sure whether it is intentional or simply a misstatement of the facts.
The latest mention of what I am referring to came in the County Judge's article of December 17, 2014. The article titled Fine Collection Report states,"...This is only the amounts retained in the county; another 80% of this amount that they also collect we're required to send to the state of Texas as well." The statement caught my eye as I have heard this said in Commissioners Court and at the time thought it was simply a misstatement.
The reality is that 0% of a fine in County or Justice Court is sent to the state. If the fine in a court case is $2,000 every penny of it goes into the general fund. However, the Judge might have been referring to court costs which are also a part of any judgement in a court case, and are in fact a much more complicated matter. Court costs differ by court, and by case.
The State Comptroller's web site has some good information on court costs and when and where they apply There are many many court cost categories and some court costs are only applicable in certain counties. Kind of a strange deal when you think about it.
Court costs are used to fund many different areas of the court at the state and local level. Some of the court costs do in fact remain in the county, but are dedicated to be used only in certain areas. For instance the record maintenance fee is to be used by the county clerk to maintain court records.
A speeding ticket for ten miles over in Milam County Justice Court will cost you $155.00. Of that $54.90 is the fine and that goes to the county. According to an example receipt I obtained from a local JP the rest goes to court costs. Some of the court costs areas include the MVF moving violation fine, IDF indigent defense fund, TFC local traffic fund, CHS courthouse security, SJRF jury fund, JCTF justice court technology fund, STF state traffic fine and CCC consolidate court costs.
As you can see there are a lot of different court costs, and those above are just in Justice Court. Out of the 155.00 traffic ticket I mentioned above a total of 75.90 goes to benefit the local government. While some of the total is initially sent to Austin it is eventually returned to the local level.
For instance the IDF or Indigent Defense Fund court cost goes to pay for indigent defense costs incurred by the county, and CHS Courthouse Security Fund goes to provide for local courthouse security. So, while initially the fine, or 35.5% stays in the county a part of the 64.5% sent to the state does comes back to the county in some form or fashion.
At the county court level a typical court judgement could involve a fine of 0 to 4,000 dollars and up to 750 dollars in court costs. Again the county would retain the entire fine and some of the court costs would go to fund local programs.
Court costs are set and mandated by those in Austin the local courts just collect them. By the way, the county also receives a percentage for "administrative costs" for collecting court costs for the state.
Now with all this being said I held off publishing this for awhile because it really did not, to my satisfaction, tell the whole story on court costs. However, my determination paid off. With the help of Nicole in Representative Farney's office I came across a publication titled, Study of the Necessity of Certain Court Costs and Fees in Texas.
This is an excellent 155 page report published in September of 2014 and gives the reader an excellent review of court costs and fees and where they came from and where they go. Definitely worth the read if you are interested in anything there is to know about court costs and fees in Texas Courts.
You can access the report in pdf form via the following link: