Last updated: December 6, 2013
The Texas court system is composed of three layers based on the size of the civil action or severity of the crime involved. Trial-level courts are divided into three overlapping levels: the big-time District Courts, the small-time County Courts, and local Municipal Courts for traffic or ordinance violations. Additionally, Beaumont has an appellate court and a federal courthouse.
Beaumont courts have long been on the cutting edge of using technology to serve the public. For example, Beaumont was the first city in the nation to implement electronic filing and service of court documents in 1996. Although the Texas court system is confusing with its layers of overlapping jurisdictions, the Beaumont situation is straightforward -- almost all cases are handled at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
The 13-story Jefferson County Courthouse towers over Beaumont as an excellent example of Art Deco architecture. This structure houses the small-time County Courts, the big-time District Courts, Family Court, and Probate Court all in one building. The County Court will typically handle civil lawsuits worth up to $10,000 and criminal misdemeanors, while the District Court will handle larger lawsuits and felony criminal violations. You will also find the Justice of the Peace, which are similar to small claims courts in other states, which handles civil lawsuits worth up to $10,000. Finally, the Ninth Court of Appeals has appellate jurisdiction over matters of state law arising from ten counties in Texas. Interesting historical note -- the top five floors once served as the county jail, and you can still spot bars over the windows.
The Beaumont Municipal Court handles traffic infractions, parking violations and other minor violations of Beaumont city ordinances (think: noise complaints, zoning violations). They also have jurisdiction over misdemeanors where the punishment is only a fine. Instead of wasting time waiting in line, pay your traffic and parking tickets online instead.
The Port Arthur Municipal Court serves a similar function as the Beaumont Municipal Court, but for the city of Port Arthur. They handle traffic and parking violations, violations of city ordinances, and minor misdemeanors.
The Jack Brooks Federal Building houses a branch of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. They handle exclusively matters of federal law at the trial level. You must bring a photo ID to enter the building, and make sure you leave all electronic devices, including cell phones and laptops, at home. The Eastern District of Texas lay within the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, and is headquartered in New Orleans. A parking lot is located on the west side of the courthouse, and you’ll find overflow parking to the south.