The Texas judicial system consists of seven different types of courts. Each type of court has jurisdiction over specific types of cases. Just above the justice and municipal courts are the county courts. Each of the 254 counties in Texas has a constitutional county court created by the Texas Constitution. In addition, the Texas Legislature has authorized additional statutory county courts to help handle the volume of legal matters within counties. The requirements to become a judge in the two types of county courts have significant differences.
Constitutional County Courts
Constitutional county courts in the Texas judicial system have original jurisdiction in civil matters where the amount in controversy is between $200 and $10,000. In addition, these courts handle uncontested probate and juvenile matters. The constitutional county courts have exclusive jurisdiction over misdemeanor cases where the possible fine is more than $500 or where a jail sentence is possible. They also handle appeals de novo from lower courts or appeals on the record from the municipal courts.
Statutory County Courts
Texas statutory courts may handle all civil, criminal, original and appellate actions prescribed by law for the constitutional county courts, including civil matters where the amount at issue is between $200 and $100,000. Some statutory courts have an even higher maximum amount. A limited number of statutory probate courts hear only probate matters.
Constitutional County Court Judges
The constitutional county courts have one judge per court. The judge is elected to serve a term of four years. Elections are countywide partisan elections. If a vacancy comes up between elections, the county commissioners appoint someone to fill the vacancy. According to Article 5, Section 15 of the Texas Constitution, a judge in a county court "shall be well informed in the law of the state." The constitution doesn't require that a judge in a constitutional court have a law license.
Statutory County Court Judges
The statutory courts also have one judge per court, elected to serve a four-year term by a partisan countywide election. County commissioners fill vacancies by appointment. A statutory county court judge must be at least 25 years old and a resident of the county for at least two years prior to election. In addition, a statutory county court judge must be a licensed attorney who has practiced law or served as a judge for at least four years prior to election as a statutory county court.