Automatic Bench Exchange

The Government Code, in the Judicial Districts Act of 1969, provides for the automatic (on anyone's motion including the Court) exchange of benches. The essence of it is that any district judge can hear cases on the docket of the other court, sign orders for one another, hear a portion of a case or matter for one another and then the court of record can finalize it, etc. Therelevant statute is set forth below. ( Emphasis added)

 Gov't Code § 24.303. Transfer of Cases; Exchange of Benches

(a) In any county in which there are two or more district courts, the judges of those courts may, in their discretion, either in termtime or vacation, on motion of any party or on agreement of the parties, or on their own motion,transfer any civil or criminal case or proceeding on their dockets to the docket of one of those other district courts. The judges of those courts may, in their discretion, exchange benches or districts from time to time.

(b) If a judge of one of the courts is disqualified, he shall transfer the case or proceeding from his court to one of the other courts, and any of the judges may in his own courtroom try and determine any case or proceeding pending in any of the other courts without having the case transferred, or may sit in any of the other courtsand hear and determine any case or proceeding pending in one of those courts. Each judgment and order shall be entered in the minutes of the court in which the case is pending, and two or more judges may try different cases in the same court at the same time and each may occupy his own courtroom or the room of any other court.

(c) In case of absence, sickness, or disqualification of any of the judges, any other of the judges may hold court for him. Any of the judges may hear and determine any part or question of any case or proceeding pending in any of the courts, and any other of the judges may complete the hearing and render judgment in the case or proceeding. Any of the judges may hear and determine motions, petitions for injunction, applications for appointment of receivers, interventions, pleas of privilege, pleas in abatement, and all dilatory pleas, motions for new trials, and all preliminary matters, questions, and proceedings, and may enter judgment or order on them in the court in which the case or proceeding is pending without transferring the case or proceeding. The judge in whose court the matter is pending may proceed to hear, complete, and determine that matter or all or any part of any other matter and render a final judgment. Any of the judges of the courts may issue restraining orders and injunctions returnable to any of the other courts.

(d) This section does not limit the powers of the judge when acting for any other judge by exchange of benches or otherwise.

The Texas Constitution also speaks to this, to-wit:

Article 5, § 11, provides in part:

"And the District Judges may exchange districts, or hold courts for each other when they may deem it expedient, and shall do so when required by law."

 as do the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure at Rule 330:

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(e) Exchange and Transfer
Where in such county there are two or more district courts having civil jurisdiction, the judges of such courts may, in their discretion, exchange benches or districts from time to time, and may transfer cases and other proceedings from one court to another, and any of them may in his own courtroom try and determine any case or proceeding pending in another court without having the case transferred, or may sit in any other of said courts and there hear and determine any case there pending, and every judgment and order shall be entered in the minutes of the court in which the case is pending and at the time the judgment or order is rendered, and two (2) or more judges may try different cases in the same court at the same time, and each may occupy his own courtroom or the room of any other court. The judge of any such court may issue restraining orders and injunctions returnable to any other judge or court, and any judge may transfer any case or proceeding pending in his court to any other of said courts, and the judge of any court to which a case or proceeding is transferred shall receive and try the same, and in turn shall have power in his discretion to transfer any such case to any other of said courts and any other judge may in his courtroom try any case pending in any other of such courts.
(f) Cases Transferred to Judges Not Occupied
Where in such counties there are two or more district courts having civil jurisdiction, when the judge of any such court shall become disengaged, he shall notify the presiding judge, and the presiding judge shall transfer to the court of the disengaged judge the next case which is ready for trial in any of said courts. Any judge not engaged in his own court may try any case in any other court.
(g) Judge May Hear Only Part of Case
When in such counties there are two or more district courts having civil jurisdiction, any judge may hear any part of any case or proceeding pending in any of said courts and determine the same, or may hear and determine any question in any case, and any other judge may complete the hearing and render judgment in the case.
(h) Any Judge May Hear Dilatory Pleas
Where in such county there are two or more district courts having civil jurisdiction, any judge may hear and determine motions, petitions for injunction, applications for appointment of receivers, interventions, pleas of privilege, pleas in abatement, all dilatory pleas and special exceptions, motions for a new trial and all preliminary matters, questions and proceedings and may enter judgment or order thereon in the court in which the case is pending without having the case transferred to the court of the judge acting, and the judge in whose court the case is pending may thereafter proceed to hear, complete and determine the case or other matter, or any part thereof, and render final judgment therein. Any judgment rendered or action taken by any judge in any of said courts in the county shall be valid and binding.
(i) Acts in Succeeding Terms
If a case or other matter is on trial, or in the process of hearing when the term of court expires, such trial, hearing or other matter may be proceeded with at the next or any subsequent term of court and no motion or plea shall be considered as waived or overruled, because not acted upon at the term of court at which it was filed, but may be acted upon at any time the judge may fix or at which it may have been postponed or continued by agreement of the parties with leave of the court. This subdivision is not applicable to original or amended motions for new trial which are governed by Rule 329b.

 Some snippets of applicable case law (links are to Westlaw®) include:

Where indictment alleged that defendant had been previously convicted in Criminal District Court # 3 and certified copies of judgment and sentence reflected that conviction did occur in that court, there was no fatal variance notwithstanding showing that judge who heard plea was duly acting and qualified judge of Criminal District Court # 4. Pendleton v. State (Cr.App. 1968) 434 S.W.2d 694.

Prosecution of defendant for felony theft was properly transferred from court in which indictment of defendant was returned to another district court in same county. Banks v. State (Cr.App. 1974) 503 S.W.2d 582.

Neither rule giving trial courts broad discretion to unilaterally transfer cases and proceedings and exchange benches or districts nor provisions of Texas Constitution and the government code stating that district courts may exchange benches when they may deem it expedient or from time to time gave authority to judge who was originally assigned to case to transfer the case back to his court and to withdraw newly assigned rulings when the case was still in the process of being tried; newly assigned judge's jurisdiction under presiding assignment order was exclusive until it terminated by the terms of the assignment, and original judge's actions in taking case back and withdrawing orders of the assigned judge were void. In re Cook Children's Medical Center (App. 2 Dist. 2000) 33 S.W.3d 460.

Absence of written transfer order, transferring jurisdiction of prosecution for drug offense from the district court for the judicial district in which the grand jury had returned an indictment to a district court in another judicial district in the county, was a procedural matter, not a jurisdictional one, and thus, the actions of the transferee court in purportedly accepting a plea bargain agreement were not rendered void, but were merely made subject to a valid and timely plea to the court's jurisdiction.Evans v. State (App. 2 Dist. 2001) 61 S.W.3d 688.

It was not improper for regularly elected judge of 144th district court of Bexar county to sit as in 175th district court and to accept plea of guilty and assess punishment, and, thereafter, for regularly elected of 175th district court, sitting in that court, to hear defendant's motion for probation. Balderas v. State (Cr.App. 1973) 497 S.W.2d 298.

It was not necessary that formal order be entered for judge of one district court to preside over case in place of duly elected, nor was it necessary for docket sheet or minutes to show reason for of by district judges. Davila v. State (Cr.App. 1983) 651 S.W.2d 797.

Different district court than that which imposed term of probation could revoke it, despite lack of transfer of jurisdiction; judge of revoking court would be deemed as sitting as judge of imposing court.Davila v. State (App. 13 Dist. 1990) 794 S.W.2d 518.

While formal order is needed to effect transfer of cases between two district courts in county with two or more district courts, no such order is needed for exchange of benches. Norton v. State (App. 14 Dist. 1996) 918 S.W.2d 25, petition for discretionary review granted, review dismissed as improvidently granted 969 S.W.2d 3, rehearing on petition for discretionary review denied.

Pursuant to statutory and constitutional exchange-of-benches provisions, district court judge was acting for court of continuing, exclusive jurisdiction when he entered order "retaining jurisdiction" over divorce proceedings related to custody and support of children, where judge was in same county as court of continuing jurisdiction and judge was assigned suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR) by centralized, rotating docket system. In re Garza (App. 4 Dist. 1998) 981 S.W.2d 438.

Statutory and constitutional exchange-of-benches provisions authorize any district judge in the county to rule on custody and support matters so long as the record is clear that the suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR) is filed in the court of continuing, exclusive jurisdiction, and that the judge is acting for that court. In re Garza (App. 4 Dist. 1998) 981 S.W.2d 438.

 Apparently the district judges may also agree on matters of exchange. The Bokemeyer case mentioned below seems to be redundant of what is authorized by the constitution, statutes and Rule 330, but does seem to recognize the authority of the courts to regulate, by agreement, their respective dockets. Thus

Judge of 137th District Court of Lubbock County had authority to approve request, under Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (Vernon's Ann.C.C.P. art. 51.14), for temporary custody over defendant on basis of indictment pending against defendant in 140th District Court of Lubbock County, in light of fact that judges of the district courts of such county had entered an order authorizing each of them to sit for each other in disposition of criminal cases and matters. Bokemeyer v. State (Cr.App. 1981) 624 S.W.2d 909.

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