New normal for courts after Harvey

One year after Hurricane Harvey's torrential rainfall deluged the Harris County courthouse, the impact is still being felt on the local criminal justice system. "It was absolutely terrible," says Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel. "Especially the jury assembly building getting 18 feet of was an unnecessary swimming pool that we didn't need downtown."

The flooding at the Criminal Justice Building initially threw all court operations into limbo for days, before they were transferred to other buildings and locations. Still, it took months for the county to get back up to speed on court cases. "The majority of the cases that were delayed because of Harvey were civil cases, the next were family cases," says Daniel. "The highest priority given, especially once we reopened in the basement of the administration building, were the criminal cases."

Looking back, Daniel tells KTRH he's impressed with how quickly they were able to respond to the flooding and resume operations. "All of our offices---the sheriff's office, the DA's office, court administration, county administration, judges, commissioners---we all got together, worked out our solutions, and acted immediately," he says. "We didn't even wait for the storm to fully pass before we were already setting up pumps to pump water out of these various buildings."

Despite the significant damage to the courthouse, one positive is all court records were protected. "Because of our constant push to put technology into the courthouse, we lost zero records," says Daniel. "Because almost all courts in Harris County are now electronic."

 While some floors of the courthouse have already reopened, Daniel says they hope to resume full operations in the Criminal Justice Building by 2020.

PHOTO: Harris County District Attorney's Office

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