For Better, Worse, Or Divorce Podcast

In the first podcast episode in our “Texas Counties Series,” Brian Walters meets with Lauren Scott, one of our associate attorneys based in San Antonio, to discuss the structure of the Bexar County family court system, local rules and procedures and their experience practicing family law in this area of Texas. Brian and Lauren finish the episode by providing resources for anyone going through a family law matter in the San Antonio area.

Walters Gilbreath, PLLC, handles family law matters throughout Texas. Schedule a consultation if you have a family law matter you want to discuss with an attorney. If there is a topic you would like to hear on our podcast, email us.

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Your hosts have earned a reputation as fierce and effective advocates inside and outside of the courtroom. Both partners are experienced trial attorneys who have been board-certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

  • Brian Walters: Thanks for tuning into Better, Worse, or Divorce, the podcast where we provide you tips and insights on how to navigate divorce and child custody situations here in the great state of Texas.
  • I’m Brian Walters, and I’m joined today by Lauren Scott, one of our associate attorneys based in our San Antonio office. This is part of our series on the different Texas counties, or regions because there are a lot of them and they’re all a little bit different. We’re going to discuss some of the local rules in Bexar County that may be helpful for someone going through a family law matter there and also some of the peculiarities of it.
  • Thanks for joining us, Lauren. You want to start out by telling us a little bit about yourself and your experience practicing law? Start by telling us something interesting. Not like “I went to law school, I was on the law review and I now practice law.” Tell us where you grew up, your family, and your hobbies, something interesting. We are people, not only lawyers, believe it or not.
  • Lauren Scott: Hard to believe. I’m from Louisiana originally. I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, so that’s always a fun fact. Really, I’ve been practicing law for about a year now, but I clerked all in Bexar County. I like to walk my dog on the riverwalk, watch my LSU Tigers, all that fun stuff. I went to St. Mary’s Law, which 9 times out of 10 most attorneys in San Antonio went to St. Mary’s law. And of course, I graduated college from LSU. That’s just me. 
  • Brian Walters: Yeah, absolutely. San Antonio is obviously the biggest and dominant city in Bexar County, but there’s obviously some other little towns within it. So we’ll just use those interchangeably, Bexar County or San Antonio. Tell us just about if you’re going to court there. Tell us about the setup of it, the basics, where is it located, how do you get there, what does it look like, all of that kind of thing.
  • Lauren Scott: The Bexar County Courthouse is in the heart of downtown. We have two big beautiful red brick buildings right next to each other, one being the Bexar County Courthouse, and the other is called Paul Elizondo Tower. In docket call, you might hear someone say you’re going to the PET or the P-E-T building, that’s Paul Elizondo Tower.
  • Normally you don’t have to go there, but there is one judge who has a courtroom there, so just be aware. You can’t miss it. It’s big, it’s red and the address is quite literally 100 Dolorosa Street. That’s where civil district presiding is held in person and the rest of the courtrooms are in that building.
  • Brian Walters: It’s the only large urban county that I’m aware of that has what looks like an old time courthouse, except it’s giant. Most of the rural counties have these little courthouses on the square that are these old historic buildings, with really interesting history around them.  
  • The faster growing urban areas in the suburban counties typically have what looks like office buildings, whereas I was there a week ago in one that was in a converted Walmart. It’s nice to be in an old-fashioned type courthouse. It’s actually got a museum there too. I think that kind of stuff is interesting too. Some old Bexar County legal history and regular history. I find it one of the more interesting places to practice.
  • Lauren Scott: Definitely. I love that museum. You should check it out if you have time before or after your case.
  • Brian Walters: One of the interesting things to me about Bexar County is it’s one of two counties that have a central docket, that I’m aware of. I think they call it a rotating docket. That’s not like any of the other 254 counties in this state. The other 252, from what I can tell, if you’re assigned to the 280th district court, you go to the 280th district court and you spend your whole case there. If you come back for trials or hearings, you deal with them and then you’re done. 
  • Bexar County and Travis County, which is Austin, have this central or rotating docket. I started my career in Travis County in Austin so I really like this system. Anybody else who’s never been to those counties thinks it’s the most crazy thing they’ve ever heard. They don’t understand how it could possibly happen, but it does. Once you explain what that means in Bexar County, there’s some tweaks with Travis County, but it’s basically the same concept.
  • Lauren Scott: I like it, obviously, but that’s all I’ve practiced in. I practice in Travis as well, so I’m pretty used to it. You’ll file a petition and it’ll say it’s in the 288th, but it’s not. You’ll go to the rotating docket, which is basically one judge per month rotating. One judge will be the presiding judge and will run essentially what everybody else calls the docket call. Everybody here, just calls it presiding, I’m in presiding. A fixed number of judges will be assigned to assist the presiding judge. They will send things out to the fixed number for the non-jury docket, meaning anything more than two days.
  • Brian Walters: It’s interesting, I don’t think it’s by coincidence that these are the two counties that have this. They probably both have been rapidly growing counties. They probably were closer to one million people when they started this system and now they’re probably both closer to 2 million. I think it’s just the right size where it’s just big enough to need this and be able to support this kind of central system. It’s not huge like Harris County, which has 4.5 million people, which you would spend all morning just getting through the docket. It seems to be that. That’s what it is in my experience.
  • The good thing to me about this is that you almost always get to a judge and usually fairly quickly, you almost always get your jury trials heard. For example, when you’re in one of these regular single issued courts, if they have two trials that day each need to take one full day. Then only one of them gets to go forward. The other one is out of luck and has to come back three months later versus this system which spreads it out. 
  • Basically everybody gets reached is the usual, not always, but is the usual way of going about things. I really like it. The downside that most people will say is what if the judge heard your first part of your case of temporary orders and then you have to come back for a final trial. You have to go to a different judge and then they don’t know anything about it and you have to start over. To me, that’s three responses.
  • One is that it’s pretty rare for that to happen. Number two, they can actually adjust that. They’ll often assign the really big difficult cases to a specific judge. Thirdly, sometimes you want to get a fresh hearing. It shouldn’t make any difference.
  • Lauren Scott: It’s not always the worst thing.
  • Brian Walters: Exactly. Instead, if the judge has heard the case a couple of times before they might be tempted  to roll their eyes. Especially if you come back and we’ve already dealt with this versus getting a fresh look at it. I find it all the way around excellent and I wish more counties would do it. I think one of the issues is the judges just don’t like to give up the control over their dockets, which I get. I understand that, but I’m glad they’ve done it in Bexar County and Travis County.
  • Lauren Scott: Yeah, I like it because you get to know the judges too. You’re not stuck with one judge. I’ve gotten to meet almost all of them just through even doing a compel or doing a withdrawal. It’s nothing. You get to learn about them, their practice, and how they run their court. I always tell people to listen to presiding on Zoom if they can. It helps  to get a feel for the presiding judge and how they like to run their courtroom. It’s there, it’s just a resource you can use and it’s always nice to have a judge know you and you know their style.
  • Brian Walters: Yeah, absolutely. I agree with that. Again, I think they’re just the right size where you can get to know them. If you’re down there regularly, you’re going to get to know all the judges, the staff and everything pretty well. It’s not so big that you can’t do that. I think it’s a good mixture of those things. We don’t need to get too much into the details of it. Of exactly what is when, because first of all, that can change and secondly, it probably is a little bit boring of content.
  • One of the other things I like about it is you can have specific dockets for specific things. A common thing is I just have a five-minute agreed motion, I need to go and get a judge to sign it quickly and get it done. If you do that on one of these other regular courts, you have to call them and get a setting. Then they don’t have any settings for two weeks or you’re going to have to be on a docket with 25 other cases versus something like this. They can have very specialized dockets for small matters, for longer matters, or for uncontested matters. Do you want to go through just a couple of those briefly? It doesn’t make for the most exciting content, but just briefly what are some of the more major ones? Especially as they relate to family law. 
  • Lauren Scott: The big ones for family law are the 8:30 AM, 9:00 AM for the evidentiary hearings and the 1:30 PM. 8:30 AM being non-evidentiary hearings or anything else from the 8:30 AM that got pushed into the 9:00 AM. Often if you have multiple announcements and if you’re on the 8:30 AM, they’ll say if you’re on the 9:00 AM, we’ll pull it to the 9:00 AM just to make it more efficient. Which again just speaks to how efficient the rotating docket can be. Your settings can get put together, go in front of one judge and knock out two settings on two different cases at one time. It’s nice.
  • The 1:30 PM is just the walkup docket, what Brian was talking about. If there’s something that just needs to get signed, you don’t have it set but opposing counsel, you need to go up, get a record really quick. You can walk up at 1:30 PM and say, “Judge, we just need a record. It will take five minutes to get this signed.” And they say, “All right, great. We’ll put you in line.” It’s so easy. I like it better because you can just announce your time announcement, say opposing counsel is here. We don’t have to go through Travis announce a week before and make sure you’re on the list. It’s very show up, give your time, sit and wait, get assigned out. It’s pretty simple.
  • Brian Walters: Now what about virtual or Zoom versus in person? I know we went from one extreme where everything was in Zoom for a while to now there are certain courts which are pretty much only in person in different counties and courts. How does Bexar County do that?
  • Lauren Scott: For the 8:30 AM docket you can be virtual or in person. The 9:00 AM docket is technically in person only, unless your announcement is under two and a half hours. If it’s over two and a half hours we have a form you can fill out that’s called a virtual agreement to appear virtually. You and opposing counsel just have to fill it out, sign it and present it to the judge and say, “We agreed to Zoom.”
  • Normally, 9:00 AM is in person. 1:30 PM, again is virtual or in person. They’re very pro-virtual, they don’t stray from it. However, there are some visiting judges who are in person only. You do have to let the judge know “Hi, I’m on Zoom.” Or, “Hi, my witness is on Zoom. Can that visiting judge do it?” Then they can adjust to who they will send you out to based on if you’re hybrid or not.
  • Brian Walters: I find that to be nice. It’s gotten to be in some of the counties where you just have to show up in person no matter what. Even for an out of town witness, or even for showing up for a five-minute thing and it seems to be unnecessary. I’m glad they’re flexible like that. When you do show up for a hearing, I assume you have to tell the judge? What do you say when you show up? How do you announce? What are your options? You can’t just say “Hey, I’m here and my husband’s a jerk and I want you to punish him.” Got to be a little different.
  • Lauren Scott: What happens is the judge will start, let’s say it’s the 8:30 AM docket. They start with the oldest case and you’ll know it’s the oldest case because you will hear 2015 CI, whatever, whatever. They’ll go through that in order and say I’m 2015 CI, whatever, whatever.
  • I or anyone else would announce movement here ready, 45 minutes and opposing counsel does their announcement, or if opposing counsel doesn’t show up or announce, the judge will say do you know who opposing counsel is? Please give them a courtesy call because we are required by Bexar County to confer before or on the hearing date.
  • They don’t care if it’s on the hearing date because you can announce conferring instead of a time announcement to try to come to an agreement or limit the issues. You just have to come back to the court before 11:00 AM and say we’re done conferring and we have an agreement or we need to be sent out. That has to happen or you get dropped. That’s a hard rule I’ve learned. Come back before 11:00 AM. 
  • Brian Walters: Absolutely. I know you now have to confer. Statement that you’ve conferred, a certificate of conference. How about really long complicated hearings? Either jury trials or long temporary orders hearings closer to a day in length. How do those get handled?
  • Lauren Scott: Normally the presiding judge will try to send you out. Once you announce six to eight hours and it’s not possible for that day, they will refer you to the monitoring court. That is another version of our rotating docket where you get an assigned date, like other counties would give you an assigned date.
  • Again, you’ll have a court too. The monitoring court is more like other counties where you get assigned a court and a date. It is to ensure that you have the six to eight hours that you need for a temporary orders hearing because sometimes they can be mini finals and you need that time. Monitoring court, you cannot say “I’m going to monitoring court, see y’all later.” You have to get referred and that’s where you go for jury trial dates to get assigned to see what’s available, to get assigned out for that.
  • You won’t know your judge for a jury trial when you’re in monitoring. You’ll get your date and that will be assigned later or if you have something, like Brian said, a more complex long TO hearing that can’t be heard in presiding that day. They’ll send you to monitoring to make sure you get a date to get relief from the court.
  • Brian Walters: All right, now let’s talk about just the basics of things. My experience in practicing all over the state is that the courts are pretty consistent in their rulings and priorities. I think they try to follow the law. Obviously there are certain things that are specific. 
  • Probably the most specific thing to me about Bexar County is it has a really large military presence. Bell County, which is Fort Hood up in central Texas, is about the only other one that’s got a significant military presence. I guess El Paso does too with Fort Bliss, there’s a significant military presence. How does that affect things?
  • For example, typically most places in Texas, if both of the parents are in Bexar County and that’s where the kid is and they’re going to be staying there for as long as their child is under the age of 18. They’re not going to let somebody move back to Florida or something like that in most cases.
  • In military cases you don’t have a choice about that. For example, if the military says you’re going to Japan, you’re going to Japan. It doesn’t really matter. How does Bear County look at geographic restrictions? And is there a military component to that too, if you know?
  • Lauren Scott: In my experience, Bexar County is very pro geographic restriction. I think it just keeps everything a little more organized and the judges just prefer it. Regarding military, like you said, the judges are probably a little more understanding than other counties. 
  • A lot of our judges are veterans themselves and when it comes to military assignments, we still follow the Texas code for military standard possession orders. I don’t want to say lenient, but they’re more understanding about maybe extra time when the service member comes back because they understand. For example, if they’ve been in Japan and virtual calls maybe won’t work with a 5-year-old with that time difference.
  • They’re very understanding about preserving the time with the child or children and the service member. In my experience, they’re really understanding about that and willing to work with the service member. Also in my experience, so is opposing counsel because a lot of them are veterans as well. Just living in San Antonio, we’re “military city USA” technically, so everybody is pretty understanding about that in my experience.
  • Brian Walters: I will say that there are some real specifics, not only as to visitation and things, but also pay, pensions and community property that are specific to military situations or even just any kind of federal employee. There are a bunch of federal employees that aren’t necessarily in the US military or maybe they are civilian Department of Defense employees. That’s definitely something worth checking out with an attorney that knows what they’re doing.
  • One last thing, we have partisan elections for judges in the state of Texas. In other words, you have to run as a judge as a Republican or Democrat. I guess those are the two practical choices. I’m not really sure how that affects family law rulings that often. To me, the best interest of the child is not a partisan issue.
  • There are probably some issues, hot button issues at the time that do have political overtones. They change and I’ve not found them to be as noticeable as some people might think. What is the partisan makeup there in Bexar County, and has it been consistent or has it gone back and forth over the years? Or what is it looking like there now?
  • Lauren Scott: From my understanding, obviously I’ve only been practicing a year, but I did take a voting law class in law school and we had to study Bexar County, so I know a little bit of history. We’ve been very consistently blue, meaning Democrat. We have a large Hispanic population in San Antonio, which tends statistically to vote democratically.
  • I agree, I don’t think it has a huge effect on the best interest of the child. I just know that just like Travis County has a majority of female judges, which isn’t always found in smaller rural counties. It’s not 10 female judges. I think that’s something special that we have. We have one male judge who is leaving. He’s running for the court of appeals, but everything is Democrat from the last election in the makeup of our district court.
  • Brian Walters: Is it like half of the judges? Because they’re four-year terms, so are about half of them up every two years or do they all come at the same time?
  • Lauren Scott: I think that two elections ago, they all came up at the same time and then it started staggering. People left and people came and went. There was a lot that happened, but it’s pretty staggered right now from my understanding.
  • Brian Walters: All right, well that’s all we have for today. This was the first episode in our local county series. Next episode, our team will be discussing the counties up in the Dallas Fort Worth area, so stay tuned for that. If you like what you’ve heard today, do us a favor and leave us a review. We appreciate all the feedback you give us, especially when it helps us better the podcast.
  • If you have any follow-up questions to this episode or would like to talk to one of us about your family law situation, reach out to us at podcast@waltersgilbreath.com, or you can contact us directly through our website, waltersgilbreath.com. I’m Brian Walters here with Lauren Scott, and thanks again for listening.
  • Lauren Scott: Thanks y’all.
  • For information about the topics covered in today’s episode and more, you can visit our website@waltersgilbreath.com. Thanks for tuning into today’s episode of For Better, Worse, or Divorce, where we post new episodes every first and third Wednesday. Do you have a topic you want discussed or a question for our hosts? Email us at podcast@waltersgilbreath.com. Thanks for listening. Until next time.