PLANO — Attorneys, judges and elected officials from throughout the Eastern District of Texas held a planning conference on Tuesday to discuss the need for more district judges, particularly in the Sherman Division. This division is made up of eight counties, including Grayson, Collin, Cooke, Denton and Fannin Counties.

PLANO — Attorneys, judges and elected officials from throughout the Eastern District of Texas held a planning conference on Tuesday to discuss the need for more district judges, particularly in the Sherman Division. This division is made up of eight counties, including Grayson, Collin, Cooke, Denton and Fannin Counties.


In describing the need for federal judges, Sherman-based attorney Roger Sanders said the need for adequate federal courts is a part of the infrastructure that makes society function.


"Imagine a life without trash pick-up, or water or sewer. We wouldn’t stand for anything that we thought was essential infrastructure to be missing for years, for five years," Sanders said, referring to times when Sherman did not have a sitting district judge. "The federal court system is a part of that infrastructure."


The conference was attended by officials from throughout the Eastern District including officials from Beaumont and other divisions. Representatives for Senators John Cornyn, Ted Cruz and other state and national legislators were also in attendance to gather information on the issue.


For the event, Sanders partnered with Sherman-based Attorney Clyde Siebman, Grayson County Judge Bill Magers, and other elected officials. While it has been less than six months since Amos Mazzant III became a federal district judge in Sherman, Magers said there is still both a need and room for more judges. However, there is demand throughout the region for judges, creating a competition between division and districts.


According to recent statistics, the Eastern District of Texas covers 43 counties and more than 32,000 square miles with a population of about 3.9 million. However, about 51 percent of the population lives within the eight counties that make up the Sherman division, Collin County Judge Keith Self said, noting heavy growth in his county.


This growth is expected to continue, with the Sherman Division expected to make up 67 percent of the 7.4 million residents in the district by 2050. "The point here, and an issue I have to make across the Metroplex is that Collin and Denton counties are no longer bedroom communities for Dallas County and Tarrant County," Self said.


In describing the problem, Self compared the Sherman Division to the Dallas Division of the Northern District of Texas. The Dallas Division covers about 3.2 million residents with seven authorized full-time judgeships while Sherman only has two, Self said. The problem is intensified by the fact that only one of those positions is filled with a full-time judge, with the retirement of Plano-based District Judge Richard Schell.


District Clerk David O’Toole said since 2005, the number of court filings in the Eastern District has increased by roughly 25 percent, with the greatest increase in civil filings.


With the shortage of district judges, this has lead to an increase of median months for criminal disposition from 10 to 14 from 2010 to 2015. Additionally, the number of civil cases more than three years old has steadily increased to more than 200 in March of 2015, O’Toole said.


Due to the requirements of a speedy trial in criminal cases, many civil trials are ultimately pushed back or delayed. Sonya Hubbard CEO of E-Z Mart Stores said her company has a warehouse dedicated to a case that has been pending for eight years.


Sherman Economic Development Corporation Board President Brooks Hull said lengthy cases such as this tie up resources and capital of these companies that could be used elsewhere for expansion and growth.


"For a large company, that is difficult, for a small company it is devastating," said Covenant Development Partners CEO Tom Johnson.


Chief United States District Judge Ron Clark said the number of case terminations has gone up in the past decade despite the reduced number of judges. "The amount of extra work that is going on is pretty incredible, but now what does that mean," Clark said.


With the increase in cases for the division, an increase in complexity of said cases has also occurred with globalization and the increasing influence of the Internet changing the scope of legal cases. When Clark first took cases in the 1980s, he said, the most complex case he remembers in the Sherman Division involved fish poaching.


"Now we are talking about international commerce, computers and everything is much more complex, there are a lot more people," Clark said. "It is a lot more work for the lawyers, and a lot more work for the judges."


This translates to more time in the courtroom for each judge and less time in their chambers, preparing for each case. "We are pushing the cases out, but many cases require a lot of thought and that’s what we are losing," Clark said."What we are losing is time."