Montgomery County District Attorney Brett W. Ligon’s petition for a writ of mandamus to compel state District Judge Kelly W. Case to assess court costs against the defendants convicted in his court was granted by the Court mere hours after the timeline to respond had closed.
In the petition filed in the Beaumont court of appeals, Ligon complained that Judge Case has been omitting the statutory court costs from the judgments of conviction when he sentences defendants to terms of imprisonment or confinement in jail. Texas statutes require that the court costs be assessed against the convicted defendants, and appellate courts have held that a judge has no discretion to waive the assessment of costs imposed by law.
Ligon filed motions to amend several judgments of conviction to include the court costs required by statute, and he filed the petition for a writ of mandamus only after Judge Case denied those motions. A petition for writ of mandamus is the vehicle by which a prosecuting attorney can ask an appellate court to overturn an unlawful order by a trial court judge.
While these defendants may currently lack the ability to pay court costs, the Montgomery County collections office works with defendants to establish payment plans, after their release from custody, in order to satisfy their financial obligations. Defendants who default on their obligations, without good reason, may face non-renewal of their driver’s licenses.
“Judge Case continued to disregard the law on assessing mandatory court costs and fees, stating that it was ‘nickel and diming’ defendants,” said District Attorney Brett Ligon. “The law requires that defendants bear some of the cost of the criminal justice system that they create the necessity for. It is unlawful and fundamentally unfair to pass thousands of dollars in costs on to the taxpayer, and it is my constitutional duty to file a mandamus when a judge attempts to let criminals shirk this responsibility. The appellate court returned an opinion in record time ordering Judge Case to follow the law and make these defendants pay.”
This marks the second mandamus action that has been filed and granted against Judge Case in his short tenure as the judge of the 9th District Court. The Court of Appeals previously blocked an unlawful order by Judge Case that Barbara Adamick, the Montgomery County District Clerk, turn over confidential juror information in a criminal case based on assertions by a local defense attorney that an African American defendant could not get a fair trial in Montgomery County.