The Robinson Municipal Court can soon become a court of record as city leaders aim to streamline the judicial process for enforcing law and code violations punishable by fine only.

The city council approved an ordinance this week to make the designation, a few weeks after the Waco City Council took the same action for the Waco Municipal Court.

Texas Government Code allows cities to create a court of record if the city determines the move is necessary to handle cases efficiently. Both cities' municipal courts handle offenses that are punishable by fine only.

Without the designation, any defendant convicted of an offense could appeal the case to a McLennan County court. The county court would hear the case “de novo,” meaning it would treat the case as if the defendant had never been convicted at the municipal court level.

Staff at both cities said the process led to inefficient uses of time and resources. If two trials were needed, a single case would require the time of a second judge and court staff, more members of public summoned to serve on a jury, and witnesses having to testify a second time without the case progressing.

Robinson council member Jimmy Rogers said the city has a few steps to take before its municipal court is officially a court of record. For one, the city needs to upgrade its recording system for court proceedings, Rogers said.

Robinson City Manager Craig Lemin said the recording system shouldn’t be too big of a project. City staff is working to get quotes on the equipment, Lemin said.

“The hope is to have it going by the first of the year,” he said.

Rogers said he is not aware of any specific or high profile challenges to local court rulings in Robinson, but the potential is there. Lemin said it is common around the state for traffic violations to be appealed to county court.

Creating a court of record will also allow the police department to get search warrants locally. Officers now have to have a county judge sign off on warrants, Rogers said.

“We’ve done a lot of work getting our ordinances in line and changing a lot of that to flow more like a modern city,” Rogers said. “This was another piece of that that helps our planning director and code enforcement to enforce those things.”

Lemin said the designation gives the court authority to deal with nuisance abatement that it could not address before.

The Waco Municipal Court will become a court of record Jan. 1 after the city council adopted an ordinance in October.

Waco City Attorney Jennifer Richie said Waco has had at least 10 cases in the last five years that were appealed to the county court.

“It’s a draining of resources for both the city and for the county,” Richie said.

A quality electronic recording system is expected to cost the city about $12,500, she said.

“Obviously the city’s always looking at how to improve to become more efficient to do things in as modern a way as possible," Richie said. "This is just part of citywide ongoing efforts to modernize and be more efficient."

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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