Now Judge, Former County Commissioner Becomes New Insider For Dallas Jail Spending Trouble

Tuesday saw the first session of the Dallas County Court of Commissioners, which is now fully Democratic as the last Republican took his new position as judge in the Criminal Courthouse.

Republican J. J. Koch, a former prosecutor, was appointed to the criminal court by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott after a redistricting staked a deck against his re-election as commissioner.

He is now the only GOP judge in Dallas County, a role he also played as the last remaining GOP commissioner.

Koch is now able to practice the dedication he and other commissioners called for in order to process cases faster. He says he appreciates the opportunity to serve in this new role.

“Doing the job is different, but I think as far as policy, what needs to be done to make sure we ease the pressure on prisons and do the right thing about justice, I don’t think those leaders will ever change,” Koch said. . “Everyone in the criminal justice system must work as efficiently as possible to ensure that justice is not delayed by the denial of justice.”

The county commissioners hold the purses of the courts and prisons, but have limited control over the administration.

The Dallas County Jail currently houses approximately 1,000 more inmates than before the COVID-19 pandemic. The added population is a combination of detained federal immigrants, inmates who are supposed to be in state prisons or state mental hospitals, and cases pending before judges.

John Wylie Price, who was Dallas County Commissioner for 38 years, said the misdemeanor judges are mostly catching up.

“The criminal judge is not so much. So, we still have performance expectations,” Price said.

Additional incarcerations are costing Dallas County taxpayers an estimated $4 million per month.

Dallas County officials also want the state of Texas to accept about 400 inmates deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial, and they should be in the care of state mental hospitals.

Democrat Andy Sommerman, who succeeded Koch, voiced the Democrats’ argument against Republican government officials at his first Court of Commissioners meeting.

“The state of Texas has sent other people, and I’m talking about undocumented workers, all over the country for whatever political purpose they have,” Sommerman said. “And they didn’t spend any of those dollars caring for people who were declared incapacitated and charged with crimes. And these victims of these crimes are not given their day in court.”

Price was once the only Democratic commissioner in Dallas County. He said he hoped the new harmony would continue.

“There are no permanent friends and permanent enemies, there are only problems, but we’ll see,” Price said.

Price and Koch have sometimes been allies on issues such as litigation and COVID-19, despite differences between their political parties.

“My job now is to make sure that what I am responsible for, to avoid these problems, is intact. I will make sure that everything I do helps solve these problems,” said Koch.

Judge Nancy Kennedy, who preceded Koch in the Dallas County 2nd Criminal Court, performed very well. Koch said the staff is great on the court and any performance degradation will be his fault.

“It’s a little pressure, but I’ve never been afraid of pressure and I enjoy the opportunity to prove that we can get things done here if we work hard,” Koch said.

Judge Kennedy was elected to the bench of the appeals court in November.

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