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McLennan County commissioners consider 8 applicants for new county court-at-law judge

McLennan County commissioners consider 8 applicants for new county court-at-law judge

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McLennan County commissioners on Tuesday began interviewing applicants seeking the judicial appointment to a newly created county court-at-law.

Eight men applied to preside over McLennan County Court-at-Law No. 3, and commissioners will continue informal interviews with the candidates Wednesday morning before narrowing the field and possibly bringing finalists back in for additional interviews.

McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said commissioners will put the appointment of the new judge on next Tuesday’s commissioners court agenda, which would be the earliest the selection would be named.

The Texas Legislature created the new county court this past session, plus lawmakers authorized a new state district court — 474th State District Court — for the county. Gov. Greg Abbott will appoint the judge for the new state district court, which is not slated to come online until Oct. 1, 2022.

The creation of the new county court-at-law becomes effective Sept. 1.

Applicants include retired state district judge Ralph Strother, Will Hutson, Pat Atkins, Dick Kettler, Chris Bullajian, Jason Milam, Denny Lessman and Ryan Luna.

Felton said the new courts each would cost the county about $500,000 a year. The state will pay the salary of the new state district judge, about $158,000, while the county will pick up the salary for the new county court-at-law judge, about $157,000 a year. The county also must fund staffing for the courts, but more importantly, officials must find space for them.

The county courthouse and courthouse annex both have reached capacity. The county recently spent $1 million to demolish the inside of the old county jail on Columbus Avenue, and officials are considering using some of that space for new courts, Felton has said.

The county currently has five state district courts, with one also serving as juvenile court. The county also has two county courts-at-law; a CPS court; a veterans court; a mental health court; and six justice courts.

McLennan County Court-at-Law No. 2 was created 42 years ago, and 414th State District Court was created 15 years ago.

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