It takes an average of 238 days for a case in Tyler's Municipal Court to get a trial date, but efforts are underway to make justice swifter.
On Wednesday, the Tyler City Council received a presentation on changes made to the court's processes that are expected to cut that time frame down to 60 to 90 days.
"We know it's not the most enjoyable process, but there's a way to make it professional, courteous, efficient and considerate of (everyone's) time," Assistant City Attorney Terrance Garmon said.
The court processes up to 12,000 cases a month, including traffic citations, parking tickets, animal control issues and city code violations. The court only handles misdemeanor charges and does not prosecute felony cases.
Interim Court Administrator Nicole Johnson and Garmon presented an update to changes made to the internal court system after the completion of a yearlong project that included mapping all of the internal processes and looking at ways to improve efficiency.
The project included outlining standard operating procedures for the three branches of the department: the judge, prosecution and the courts. That includes updated job descriptions, processes and general time frames on how long a task should take. The procedures will be updated annually.
"That's in the process of being finalized," Garmon said. "It's a starting point."
PRE-APPROVED PLEA RANGES
The court also identified the most frequent citations and created a plea range acceptable to the judge, knocking out the need to bring each individual case before the court.
Garmon said in the previous system, reaching a plea agreement involved two to three interactions with the court.
The first interaction would be with the prosecutor to come to a plea agreement; then the agreement would go to the judge for consideration. The defendant could then pay the agreed-on fines or make arrangements to come back and pay it.
"This really eliminates them coming back to court two or three times," Garmon said. "We can get it all taken care of in one day."
Ms. Johnson said the move saves between seven and eight hours of staff and resident time.
Another improvement is the addition of a full-time prosecutor.
The city currently employes contract prosecutors from among local attorneys who work for the city part time. The new full-time position is posted on the city's website but has not been filled.
"This allows someone to be here at the city to address court cases on full-time basis," Garmon said. "They can take calls, return phone calls and really work up the cases. We didn't have that before. We had a lot of people working a case, so it was hard to get answers sometimes."
Tyler Municipal Court also has installed an electronic filing system, eliminating paper files. Now they will be scanned into a computer system, making them searchable and accessible.
Ms. Johnson said the new system also will aid staff in informing residents on exactly where their case is in the court process.
Tyler Municipal Court also has started a pretrial diversion program with Tyler Independent School District.
The program allows minors to complete a program and avoid a citation but only if the offense occurs on campus. The program does not apply to citations issued from Tyler Police Department or other entities.
The diversion program includes counseling, which varies depending on the offense.
"We want to try to help them with the underlying problem instead of making them pay a fine or finding them guilty of an offense," Garmon said. "We want to help children as much as we can before they enter into the real world."