Clark taking on Court at Law office

Judge Christopher Clark will assume the vacant bench of County Court at Law No. 2 Monday, a position he said he’s had his eye on since he first began his law career, prosecuting cases in that very courtroom.

“When I thought about being a judge, that’s my ideal situation,” Clark said. “I can’t believe it just landed in my lap.”

Clark will assume the position following the resignation of former County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Scott Layh at the end of December. He was appointed to fill Layh’s position at the last County Commissioners’ Court meeting.

This will be the second time in his career Clark has been appointed to a judge position, as he was previously appointed to the Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace position following the retirement of Judge Dennis Bright in 2009.

Clark never intended to remain a Justice of the Peace forever though. He said he always had wanted to be a judge and wanted to move to a higher position at some point.

“It took me all of about a week of being on the bench to realize this was exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Clark said. “It’s going to be a bigger change for me, and it’s something that I’ve been training for for the last nine years.”

The key differences between a Justice of the Peace court and a County Court at Law are the types of cases: the jurisdictional limit for a civil case in the justice court is $10,000, while the limit at the county court level is $200,000. Justice courts cover cases that are punishable by fine only, while county courts take class A and class B misdemeanor cases punishable by jail time, as well as dealing with probate jurisdiction and family law jurisdiction.

Another difference between the two courts is the amount of case work — county courts see a much larger amount of cases than justice courts. This was another reason Clark decided to seek the appointment, aside from there being no other candidates running for the seat, as he didn’t want to see a backlog develop in the county court following Layh’s resignation.

On the other hand, that raises concern for the justice of the peace seat Clark is leaving vacant. With no one appointed to the seat, there’s a good chance a backlog of cases could develop in the Precinct 2 court, something that Clark said he’s concerned about.

“This court means a lot to me. I think I’ve done a really good job of maintaining it and keeping its integrity alive and I want to see it stay that way,” he said. “I’ll do whatever I can if called on about filling it and offer opinions. I don’t want it to fall into disrepair.”

Despite this, Clark said given the sheer amount of caseloads the county courts see, he saw that court as a more important concern, and voiced as much to the commissioners’ court.

Regarding if he has any plans of moving up to a higher position in the future, Clark said while he would never close off the possibility of anything, it would take an awful lot to make him leave the bench.

Clark has both working connections and emotional connections to the court he’ll be presiding over: He began prosecuting cases there when he first began practicing law, and has known both former Judge Mark Owens and Court Administrator Brenda Melson for a long time. Owens even swore Clark in when he was appointed as a justice of the peace.

“I loved him and I’m very excited to be able to sit on the bench that he sat on,” he said. “I could see myself retiring on that bench.”