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Eckhardt to remain county judge until May 13

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

In yet another unprecedented decision linked to COVID-19, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt will not be stepping down from county government after all, despite her March 10 resignation.

Eckhardt said at a press conference Monday that she could not have foreseen the developing impact of the pandemic. She explained that she will continue to lead county and local officials in her holdover capacity through May.

The announcement that Eckhardt would remain in office followed Gov. Greg Abbott’s postponement of the special election for state Sen. Kirk Watson’s seat. Eckhardt declared her candidacy in that race when she resigned her current position. The election is currently scheduled for July 14.

The Texas Constitution requires Eckhardt to resign from her county seat in order to run for state Legislature. Local attorney Bill Aleshire told the Austin Monitor, “There’s a disagreement among lawyers as to whether or not resigning the position is just enough.” Aleshire’s interpretation of the legal language is that “you have to be out of the office before you are eligible to run for the Legislature. Otherwise, the constitutional law doesn’t make sense.”

Article 3, Section 19 of the Texas Constitution says, “No judge of any court … shall during the term for which he is elected or appointed, be eligible to the Legislature.”

County Attorney David Escamilla told the Monitor that Eckhardt’s position – continuing to serve as a holdover county judge after she officially stepped down to run for senator – is “absolutely legal.”

The “Texas Constitution requires her to continue to be county judge until her successor is qualified,” he explained. In a letter, Escamilla noted that there is no statutorily defined timeline for a successor to become qualified, which entails taking the oath of office.

Two weeks ago, the Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously appointed former County Judge Sam Biscoe to step in and preside until a new county judge is elected in November. Escamilla said Biscoe is not qualified to act as interim county judge until he takes the oath of office.

Biscoe was originally scheduled to be sworn in as interim county judge on Monday, but has now selected May 13 as the day he will take his oath of office.

In addition, according to a press release from the county, Biscoe will then appoint Eckhardt as his “emergency management assistant,” a position that will allow her to coordinate pandemic response efforts for the county.

“To maintain continuity in our emergency response efforts, I have asked Judge Eckhardt to stay on as a holdover through May 13th,” Biscoe said in a statement to the press. “After serving with Judge Eckhardt for over six years, I have the highest confidence in her leadership as we continue our efforts to keep our community and workforce safe during these challenging times.”

The Commissioners Court did not take any public action on the subject at its March 24 meeting. Instead, commissioners received a briefing and advisory counsel in their executive session.

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