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Commissioners fund new family court

Thursday, September 4, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Caught between a critical need for an additional judge for family court and a promise to hold the line on tax increases, Travis County Commissioners voted Wednesday to allocate $424,000 for a new court to hear child protection cases. Earlier in the budget process, District Judge Lora Livingston told the commissioners that children and parents involved in abuse and neglect cases get an average of only 10 minutes to present their case, while most needed at least 30 minutes. She also said that caseloads were so high, they had to hire private attorneys to represent some of their clients. (See Austin Monitor, Aug. 25.) Livingston told the commissioners during their budget markup session Wednesday that it had been almost 20 years since the county had given the civil courts a new associate judge, but during that time their child protective services caseload had grown exponentially.  Despite the apparent lack of available funds, Commissioner Bruce Todd said they had to find a way to make it happen. If we don’t fund this, I can’t say we’ve had a successful budget. Not only is it legally mandated, but it’s morally mandated,” he said. “I would not be embarrassed to tell anyone I raised their taxes to pay for this.” Judge Sam Biscoe said they would likely fund an additional associate judge and three staffers through a one-time expenditure from reserves, meaning they will have to find the funds again in the next budget cycle. Commissioners approved the budget addition, 3-0-2, with Commissioners Margaret Gomez and Ron Davis abstaining.

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