County-Level Trial Courts of Limited Jurisdiction

Constitutional County Courts

The Texas Constitution states that each of the 254 counties in Texas will operate a county constitutional court, each of which will have a constitutional county judge who presides over the constitutional county court in addition to the county commissioners’ court during the office’s four-year term (we’ll come back to county commissioners’ courts when we look at local government later in this course).

Generally, constitutional county courts exercise both original and appellate jurisdiction:

  • concurrent original jurisdiction in civil actions between $200 and $10,000 and cases involving juvenile matters
  • exclusive original jurisdiction in misdemeanor cases (other than those involving official misconduct) with possible fines greater than $500 or a jail sentence of no more than one year
  • general jurisdiction over probate matters (i.e., wills, estates, and guardianship cases)
  • appellate jurisdiction of decisions made by local courts within the county

Thirty-six constitutional county courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the justice of the peace courts in civil law cases.  In counties with at least 1.75 million residents, constitutional county courts may also hear truancy cases.

“In at least seventy-four counties the constitutional county court’s judicial duties have been given, in whole or in part, to statutory county courts” (Womack, n.d.); in these counties, constitutional county courts focus on administrative functions (i.e., running county government).

Statutory County Courts

Statutory county courts, as the name suggests, are created by the Texas legislature.  The first statutory county court was created in 1907.  Currently, we have 249 statutory county courts.

“The . . . jurisdictions of the statutory courts vary greatly from county to county, depending on the decisions of the county” (Womack, n.d.).  Generally, statutory county courts have jurisdiction in civil, criminal, original, and appellate actions prescribed by law for constitutional county courts.  Additionally, these courts have concurrent original jurisdiction over civil matters up to $200,000 and appellate jurisdiction of final rulings and decisions of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission, with some courts having a higher maximum jurisdiction amount.  Ultimately, the actual jurisdiction of a statutory court depends on what is prescribed in statute; as such, the jurisdiction of statutory county courts varies greatly.

Statutory Probate Courts

Statutory probate courts, which are created by the Texas legislature, are limited in scope and solely perform probate matters.  Currently, there are 18 statutory probate courts located in ten different counties.