Houston’s flooded streets due to Hurricane Harvey. (Photo: IrinaK/Shutterstock.com)
Courthouses in the hardest-hit areas of the Texas Gulf Coast will remain closed indefinitely, but others along Hurricane Harvey’s disastrous path are planning to reopen after Labor Day.
Quickly after the devastating storm crippled the justice system along the Texas Gulf Coast, the Texas Supreme Court responded on Monday with an order that made it clear that the disaster was good cause for courts to suspend deadlines and regular court procedures in both civil and criminal cases. Since then, the high court has issued a bevy of other recovery-related orders.
The court ordered on Tuesday that the statute of limitations would be suspended for any civil claim where a claimant showed “that the disastrous conditions resulting from Hurricane Harvey” prevented the timely filing of the claim. But limitations would be extended only to a date when it was reasonably possible to file the claim.
State bar dues were due on Thursday, and lawyers who failed to pay would be suspended from practicing law Friday. But in an order, the Supreme Court acknowledged that Harvey could have hindered some lawyers from paying on time. The high court extended the payment deadline to Oct. 31 for lawyers practicing in one of the counties that the governor has declared as a disaster area.
Another order allows out-of-state lawyers to practice temporarily in Texas if they have been displaced by the hurricane, or they’re practicing remotely in Texas, or if they’re doing pro bono work for hurricane victims. Such lawyers still must register for temporary practice.
With Harvey making landfall in Rockport, the courts of Aransas County have been among the hardest hit—they will stay closed indefinitely. The Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals issued a joint order that allows Aransas County courts to conduct proceedings temporarily in neighboring San Patricio County.
Many other courts in the disaster zone will stay closed until further notice, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration’s website. They include:
• Houston’s 1st Court of Appeals.
• Houston’s 14th Court of Appeals.
• Harris County’s courts and clerks’ offices.
• Goliad County district courts and county clerk’s office.
• Hardin County’s courts.
• Jasper County District Clerk’s Office.
• Refugio County’s courts and clerks’ offices.
• Wharton County’s 329th District Court.
Other storm-affected courts plan to reopen on Sept. 5, including:
• Beaumont’s 9th Court of Appeals.
• Chambers County’s courts and clerks offices.
• Fort Bend County District Clerk’s Office.
• Jefferson County’s courts.
• Matagorda County’s 130th District Court.
• Palo Pinto County’s courts and clerks’ offices.
• Victoria County’s county courts-at-law and county clerk’s office.
The storm did not spare federal courts from its fury, but already, some have come back on line. According to the website for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, the Southern District’s location in Corpus Christi has already reopened. The court’s locations in Houston, Victoria and Galveston all plan to reopen on Sept. 5.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas had closed its Beaumont and Lufkin locations because of Harvey, but it plans to reopen them on Sept. 5, according to the court’s website.