Image: Data compilation of Montgomery County Justice Courts, Fiscal Year 2016 (October 1, 2015, through September 30, 2016). Sources: Texas Office of Court Administration, Montgomery County government.
New Caney and Conroe, July 30 – Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts strikes out as the worst run Justice Court in Montgomery County and a serious loss leader among those five courts. The numbers are striking and reveal that Metts’ terribly run court alone costs Montgomery County taxpayers at least $313,943 in lost revenue collected. The data come from the Texas Office of Court Administration and the Montgomery County government.
Precinct 3 Justice Edie Connelly utilizes the County’s Collections Department for its fines and fees collection. The Collection Department operates under the direct of Clegg DeWalt, II, an experienced manager from the national collections industry. Connelly’s collection rate is a remarkable 97%. During Fiscal Year 2016, Connelly’s Court collected $3,198,396.62 of the $3,283,089.70 in fines and fees assessed. Although her budget is a bit higher than the other courts due to her substantially higher caseload, her net (equaling amount collected per case minus cost per case) is strikingly higher than any of the other courts at $134.21 per case.
Metts Precinct 4 Justice Court is the second worst in net per case at $26.52, or less than one-fifth of the net in Connelly’s Justice Court. Metts’ collections are substantially lower as a percentage of total fees assessed than the other Justice Courts. Metts only collects 75% of the fees his JP court assesses.
Metts, Wayne Mack (JP 1), Judge Grady “Trey” Spikes (JP2), and Judge Matt Masden (JP5) all use an outside collection law firm to handle all of the intake of their fees and fines. The outside firm, Grave Humphries Stahl (GHS), has provided a free database software program, NetData, that those four courts utilize to handle all of their judicial cases. The free software program is a complete mess. The public cannot access the NetData database, so litigants cannot view court files. Connelly’s Justice Court utilizes the County’s Odyssey database, so all of her court files are available online to the general public.
None of the other four JP courts come close to Connelly’s 97% collection rate. Metts is the worst at a 75% collection rate with a $26.52 net per case. Mack is the second worst with a 78% collection rate with a $41.23 net per case. Interestingly, Judge Masden has a much lower case load but does not suffer from a diseconomy of scale, because his collections rate, 83%, is actually higher than Metts or Mack. Obviously, Masden is doing something right to help him overcome the serious problems from the GHS-NetData losses.
Judge Spikes has the highest collection rate among the four users of GHS-NetData at 89%. With almost 1100 cases less than Metts, Spikes’ collections still exceeded Metts by approximately $92,000.
Metts and the person whom he claims is his “sworn deputy,” local political boss and consultant Marc Davenport, have foisted the NetData fiasco on the four JP courts, while Connelly refused to go along with them for fiscal and due process reasons. Metts and Davenport cost Montgomery County at least the following amounts during Fiscal Year 2016, in comparison to the 97% collection rate in Judge Connelly’s Precinct 3 Justice Court:
JP1 (Mack) FY2016 Loss to the Taxpayers = $258,606
JP2 (Spikes) FY2016 Loss to the Taxpayers = $99,511
JP4 (Metts) FY2016 Loss to the Taxpayers = $313,943
JP5 (Masden) FY 2016 Loss to the Taxpayers = $96,102
TOTAL FY2016 LOSS TO THE TAXPAYERS AS A RESULT OF METTS AND DAVENPORT FOISTING THE GHS/NETDATA COLLECTION SYSTEM ON THE FOUR JUSTICE OF THE PEACE COURTS 1, 2, 4, AND 5 = $768,162.
$768,162 is an unacceptable loss in collection revenue for one Fiscal Year. The County Commissioners Court should immediately step in, refuse to renew the GHS/NetData contract, which comes up for renewal on August 5, 2017, and move those four JP courts to the far better management of the County’s internal collection system. The move would provide the public with the additional benefit that the public could actually access court files online in those four courts. (Metts probably doesn’t want the public to see his court files, as previous behavior has shown.)