New 464th Court to be up and running quickly

EDINBURG — Along with three new judges who were elected last fall, there was a new, but familiar face at Wednesday’s Board of Judges meeting.

Jaime Tijerina — the newest addition, having been appointed Monday by the governor to preside over the 464th District Court — joined his peers around a table inside a second-floor courtroom. Given the growing number of judges in the county, the table was full, and not everyone was in attendance.

The 464th is the 12th district court in the county, which also has eight county courts at law, two master courts and a probate court.

The Texas Legislature approved its creation with the passage of Senate Bill 1329 in 2017, which created a slew of new courts across the state to ease caseloads in backlogged courts. Per the law, the 464th District Court went into effect Jan. 1, but Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t make his appointment until Jan. 28.

Tijerina must still be confirmed by the Texas Senate, which could occur as early as next week. Until then, he can’t take the oath of office, a requirement for taking the bench and hiring staff.

“There’s something special about it,” Tijerina said of the opportunity to preside over a new court, “but given my experience I don’t think it’s going to be any different. It’s just a different number; we’ll work on disposing cases the way we did in the old ones.”

Tijerina, a Republican, has been appointed twice before.

The first time was in October 2013 when then-Gov. Rick Perry selected him to fill the vacancy in the 92nd District Court after Ricardo Rodriguez stepped down to run for district attorney. Tijerina campaigned to keep the seat, but lost to Democrat Luis Singleterry in the November 2014 election.

More recently, Tijerina presided over the 93rd District Court from June to December 2018 after Abbott appointed him to fill the vacancy left by Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado’s resignation. Tijerina did not run for that seat, and instead campaigned for a spot on the 13th Court of Appeals; ultimately, losing to Delgado, a Democrat.

Tijerina will preside over the 464th District Court through 2020, at which point an elected judge will fill the remaining two years of the four-year term.

The primary for that election will take place in March 2020 and the general election in November of that year.

While Tijerina is unsure whether he’ll run for that seat or try for one of the open spots on the 13th Court of Appeals, he said he enjoys public service and is considering all his options.

“I’ve always said I was an accidental public servant. I just kind of got into it and I loved doing it,” Tijerina said. “I feel completely blessed and honored to serve the citizens and the taxpayer dollars that fund my salary I don’t take for granted.”

“I like being a district court judge and I wish I could get elected in Hidalgo County.”

The 464th district courtroom will be located in the old probate courtroom on the third floor of the courthouse.

As a district court judge, Tijerina will preside over felony-level criminal cases and civil cases.

“I think judges have to have the temperament and think of each case on its own, and we can do it quickly but you also want to do it with compassion and with the people in mind,” he said of being efficient but having a sense of purpose.

The Board of Judges decided Wednesday to add Tijerina to the rotation for new cases coming from the grand jury or the District Attorney’s Office. Until he takes the oath of office, any cases he is assigned will be heard by Auxiliary Court judges.

Other district court judges will also transfer cases to his court to even the caseload.

“Hopefully (the 464th) will alleviate some of the stresses the courts have, but it seems like we keep growing faster than we can keep up,” Tijerina said.

“I’ll bet it’s not long before we’re running out of space,” he said of the new courthouse, which is scheduled to be complete in July 2021.

The original version of SB 1329 sought to create a ninth county court at law for Hidalgo County, but it did not make it into the final version of the bill. An amendment adding a 13th district court, the 465th, also did not make it into the final version.