The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, September 25 – Montgomery County Office of Court Administration (OCA) Director Nathan Jensen resigned on Monday, September 23, 2019, as a result of criticism he received from Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack for Jensen’s failure to warn the Commissioners Court and the Board of District Judges of major cost overruns in the Court Operations budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which ends on September 30, as a result of indigent criminal defense attorney costs and Child Protective Services (CPS) attorney costs. After a presentation by several of the County’s judges yesterday, September 24, 2019, the Commissioners Court voted to approve a budget amendment spending an additional $528,000 of tax dollars from the County government’s fund balance.
359th District Judge Kathleen Hamilton, the senior District Judge in Montgomery County, began the presentation of the members of the judiciary as follows:
“As you know, I’m Kathy Hamilton. I’m Judge of the 359th District Court. This is my seventeenth year on the bench and I only have good memories of working with this Court. The Montgomery County Judiciary has always enjoyed a cordial and respectful relationship with Commissioners Court. We are mindful of the separation of powers and the Commissioners Court’s inherent power to set the County Budget and make expenditures without Constitutional and statutory parameters. The judiciary must remain independent from this largely political process…I’m here today with a number of my colleagues, because we have been unwillingly brought into this process by some public statements of a member of this Court. We’re also here to address the expenditures of what is known as Court Operations.”
On Sunday, September 8, 2019, Noack in an email raised serious questions about Jensen’s failure to warn the Commissioners Court and the judiciary of the cost overruns. Two weeks ago, the Commissioners Court and County Auditor Rakesh Pandey briefly discussed the concerns openly during the September 10, 2019, Commissioners Court meeting. Pandey and Jensen at that time were unable to provide the exact amount of the cost overruns.
Noack attended the second half of the Commissioners Court meeting on September 24, 2019, but was not at the meeting during the judges’ presentation.
410th District Judge Jennifer Robin explained to the Commissioners Court, “What was going on was between one particular Commissioner and our budget officer [Amanda Carter].” In response, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough commented, “We love you guys. Let’s move forward. We’re not the enemy here.”
Judge Robin made clear that the judges didn’t want to be in a position where they, as a group, asked for additional funds in order to meet the necessary expenditures of the Court Operations budget.
The Commissioners Court voted unanimously – with Noack absent – to pull funds from the County government’s fund balance, due to insufficient funds in the County’s contingency funds, in order to fund the attorney invoices for services rendered to indigent criminal defendants and indigent parties to CPS cases.
County Budget Director Amanda Carter told the Commissioners Court, “I’m going to be working closer with the Board of Judges. That way it’s not going to be the Commissioners Court against the Board of Judges.”
Noack declined to provide a comment to The Golden Hammer.