As provided in the Texas Constitution, each of the 254 counties of the state has a single county court presided over by a county judge.
These courts have concurrent jurisdiction with justice of the peace and district courts in civil cases in which the amount in controversy is small. Jurisdiction is said to be concurrent when two levels of courts have authority to try the same type of case.
The constitutional county courts generally hear the probate cases filed in the county. They have original jurisdiction over all Class A and Class B misdemeanor criminal cases, which are the more serious minor offenses. These courts usually have appellate jurisdiction in cases appealed from justice of the peace and municipal courts, except in counties where county courts-at-law have been established. Unless the appeal is one from a designated municipal court of record (trial proceedings are recorded by a court reporter), the appeal takes the form of a trial de novo (a completely new trial).
In addition to performing judicial functions, the county judge serves as the administrative head of the county government. In the more populated counties, the administrative duties occupy most of the time of the county judge, and the legislature has created county courts-at-law and statutory probate courts to relieve the county judge of most, and in some cases all, of the judicial duties usually performed by that office.
County Courts-at-Law in Smith County
Because the Texas constitution limits each county to only one county court, county courts-at-law are created by statute in larger counties, primarily to aid the single county court in its judicial functions. The legal jurisdiction of these special county-level trial courts can vary considerably and is established by the specific statute that created each court.
Smith County has three Courts-at-Law, each separately created by the Texas Legislature as the need has been shown. Our County Courts at Law handle the following types of cases:
- Criminal misdemeanor Class A and B cases.
- Civil cases. Civil jurisdiction of the Smith County Courts at Law is “concurrent” with that of the District
- Courts, meaning that the dollar-amount limitation that exists in some other counties does not apply here.
- Domestic cases (County Court at Law and Court at Law #2)
- Cases appealed from justice of the peace and municipal courts.
- Contested probate matters (County Court at Law #3)
- Juvenile cases, Class B and above (County Court at Law #3.)