In Texas, district courts are the primary trial courts in the state. Currently, there are 477 district courts, each of which has one judge who serves a four-year term (although the Texas Constitution of 1876 does allow additional judges as required by caseload). The geographical region served by a district court is established by the Texas legislature.
“The geographic area of most judicial districts is one county, although a populous county has many district courts; Harris County, for example, had fifty-nine. No judicial district is smaller than a county. Some judicial districts in sparsely populated areas comprise more than one county.” (Womack, n.d.)
In many locations, the regional jurisdiction of district courts overlaps.
District courts are courts of general jurisdiction, which means they potentially have original jurisdiction over all matters; however, the Texas Constitution of 1876 limits this jurisdiction by excluding cases in which some other state court has been granted jurisdiction over the matter in question. Generally speaking, district courts exercise original jurisdiction in:
- civil matters involving actions over $200*; suits over land titles and enforcement of liens on land; suits for slander and defamation, divorce cases and other family law matters; juvenile law cases; and suits on behalf of the state for penalties, forfeitures, and escheat
- felony criminal cases and misdemeanor cases involving official misconduct
- contested elections
*NOTE: The minimum monetary jurisdiction of district courts in civil cases is disputed due to potential conflict between constitutional and statutory law – some believe the minimum damages must be at least $200.01, and some believe the minimum damages must be at least $500.
Most district courts exercise jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters prescribed to them by law. “A constitutional district court’s jurisdiction cannot be reduced by the legislature, though the legislature has established some nonconstitutional courts (such as criminal district courts or domestic-relations courts) that have limited jurisdiction” (Womack, n.d.). Thirteen district courts are designated as criminal district courts – they focus primarily on criminal cases. Other district courts are directed to give preference to certain specialized areas.
District courts may perform other functions, including issuing writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, injunction, certiorari, sequestration, attachment, garnishment, and all writs needed to enforce their jurisdiction.