El Paso Court of Appeals reversed mandamus against JP holding rules applicable to justice/municipal courts allow “electronic” judgments
In re Lujan, 08-15-00286-CV, 2019 WL 1922765, (Tex. App. – El Paso, April 30, 2019).
This is a mandamus case involving and order the Justice of the Peace for Precinct 6 in El Paso to vacate an order falling outside of his plenary power. This case involves principles of JP and non-record courts and will be of interest to those attorneys who practice in such courts.
The underlying action was a citation for “Possession of Drug Paraphernalia,” a Class C misdemeanor punishable only by a fine. Villanueva entered a plea of no contest and payment. The court submitted the information into its case management system; but it is important to note no written judgment was created or signed by Judge Lujan. Four years later, Villanueva requested a withdrawal of his previous plea and a trial. When Judge Lujan refused, Villanueva filed for a writ of mandamus to a county court in El Paso. The record included a paper copy of the court’s case management system docket entries, Villanueva’s identifying information, his entered plea, the screen shot of the system’s judgment (adjudged “guilty”), the paid fine amount, and receipt of said payment after acknowledgement by Villanueva that it was a “record.” Ultimately, the county court granted mandamus petition against Judge Lujan, stating that Lujan never entered a written judgment as required by the applicable procedural rules and failed to set the case for trial. At this point, Lujan filed a motion for a new trial and a notice of intent to appeal.
The pivotal focus in this case is the relationship between justice/municipal courts and the Code of Criminal Procedure and Civil Procedure. Justice and municipal courts are controlled by Chapter 45 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The El Paso Court of Appeals held that justice and municipal courts are not governed by provisions outside of Chapter 45 if they are expressly included within Chapter 45 provisions. Further, during the Court of Appeals’ analysis refused to hold justice and municipal courts to standards applicable to “indictments and informations,” since justice (and municipal) courts rely on complaints as their charging instruments. The interconnectivity is often misunderstood. The El Paso Court of Appeals noted 1) along with Chapter 45, chapters the Texas Government Code also apply including Chapter 27 to justice courts, Chapter 29 to municipal courts not of record, and municipal Chapter 30 to municipal courts of record and 2) in the absence of a specific provision, the remainder of the Code of Criminal Procedure most likely applies to justice and municipal courts. The appellate court found provisions within Chapter 45 considered electronically stored records to have the same effect as documents otherwise required to be written. Specifically, the Chapter provided that electronically recorded judgments have the “same force and effect as a written signed judgment.” As a result, the order of mandamus was reversed.
If you would like to read the opinion in its entirety, please click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice McClure, Justice Rodriguez and Justice Hughes. Opinion by Justice Rodriguez.