Office of House Bill AnalysisS.B. 294
By: Harris
Judicial Affairs


Currently, Texas courts do not have probate masters. Both criminal and
family courts have satisfied the need to conduct hearings while a judge is
in a jury trial by appointing magistrates and masters. S.B. 294 creates the
office of probate master for the statutory probate court, and provides for
its administration, including procedures for the appointment, termination,
and administration of the role of a probate master, to increase the
efficiency of operation for probate courts. 


It is the opinion of the Office of House Bill Analysis that this bill does
not expressly delegate any additional rulemaking authority to a state
officer, department, agency, or institution. 


SECTION 1. Amends Chapter 54, Government Code, by adding Subchapter G, as


Sec. 54.601. DEFINITION. Defines "statutory probate court".

Sec. 54.602. APPLICATION. Provides that this subchapter does not apply to
the statutory probate courts of Dallas County.  

Sec. 54.603. APPOINTMENT. Authorizes the statutory  probate court judge to
appoint a probate master for the statutory  probate court with the approval
of the commissioners court. Authorizes the commissioners court to determine
the number of and authorize the appointment of probate masters.  Provides
that the probate master's appointment must have the unanimous approval of
all the judges under whom the probate master serves, if that probate master
serves more than one court.  Provides that the probate master must meet
certain qualifications. Authorizes a probate master appointed under this
subchapter to serve as a master appointed under Section 574.0085 (Masters),
Health and Safety Code.  

Sec. 54.604. TERMINATION OF PROBATE MASTER. Provides that a probate master
serving a single court serves at the will of that court's judge. Provides
that a probate master serving more than two courts can only be terminated
by a majority of the judges of all the courts the probate master serves.
Authorizes either of the judges, if a probate master serves two courts, to
terminate that probate master's employment. Sets forth conditions of a
probate master appointment termination.  

Sec. 54.605. COMPENSATION. Entitles a probate master to compensation as
determined by the appointing judge and the commissioners court. Prohibits a
probate master's salary from exceeding that of an appointing judge.
Requires the probate master to be paid by the county from the county
general fund in the same manner that the appointing judge's salary is paid. 

Sec. 54.606. OATH.  Provides that a probate master must take the required
constitutional oath of office.  

 Sec. 54.607. MAGISTRATE. Provides that a probate master appointed under
this subchapter is a magistrate.  

Sec. 54.608. CASES THAT MAY BE REFERRED. Authorizes a judge to refer to a
probate master any aspect of a suit, including any matter ancillary to the
suit.  Authorizes the judge to refer a trial to a probate master, unless a
party files a written objection to this action. Describes a trial on the
merits.  Provides that a party must file an objection regarding a probate
master hearing a trial by the10th day after notification. Requires the
referring court to hear the trial on the merits if an objection to the
probate master is filed.  Provides that a matter must be tried by the
referring court, unless all parties provide written consent to a probate
master hearing a contested trial. Provides that when there is concurrent
jurisdiction between a referring and a district court, any order made by a
probate master is void if the parties do not consent in writing to the
probate master's authority. Requires the probate master to refer any
matters requiring a jury back to the referring court if a jury trial is
demanded and a jury fee is paid.  

Sec. 54.609. ORDER OF REFERRAL. Requires a judge to render an individual
order of referral or a general order of referral specifying the class and
type of cases to be heard by the probate master when referring a case to a
probate master. Authorizes the judge of the referring court to limit the
power or duties of a probate master.  

Sec. 54.610. POWERS OF PROBATE MASTER.  Sets forth the actions a probate
master is authorized to take.  

Sec. 54.611. ATTENDANCE OF BAILIFF.  Requires a bailiff to attend a hearing
conducted by a probate master if directed to attend by the referring court.

Sec. 54.612. COURT REPORTER. Provides that a court reporter is not required
during a probate master hearing unless required by other law.  Authorizes
the preservation of hearing records through a court reporter or any other
means approved by the referring court. Authorizes the referring court or
the probate master to impose on a party as a court cost the expense of
preserving the record. 

Sec. 54.613. WITNESS. Provides that a witness who appears before a probate
master is subject to the penalties for perjury provided by law. Authorizes
a referring court to impose penalties on a witness who fails to appear or
improperly refuses to answer a question if the refusal has been certified
to the court by the probate master. 

Sec. 54.614. REPORT.  Authorizes a probate master to include findings,
conclusions, or recommendations in the report. Requires a probate master to
prepare a written report in the form directed by the referring court.
Requires the probate master to provide notice of the substance of the
report to the parties participating in the hearing and sets forth the
format and mailing requirements of the notice.  Requires the probate master
to send the probate master's signed and dated report and all other papers
relating to a case to the referring court after the hearing.  

Sec. 54.615. NOTICE OF RIGHT TO APPEAL. Requires a probate master to give
all parties notice of the right of appeal to the judge of the referring
court.  Sets forth the format of the notice.  

Sec. 54.616. ORDER OF COURT. Provides that the decisions and
recommendations of a probate master report have the force and effect, and
is as enforceable, as an order of the referring court, except for orders
for incarceration or appointment of a receiver. Provides that if there is
no appeal to the referring court, the probate master's report becomes the
order of the referring court.  

Sec. 54.617. JUDICIAL ACTION ON A MASTER'S REPORT. Authorizes the referring
court to adopt, modify, or reject the probate master's report, hear further
evidence, or  recommit the matter to the probate master for further
proceedings, unless a party files a written notice of appeal.  

Sec. 54.618. APPEAL TO REFERRING COURT. Authorizes a party to appeal a
probate master report and sets forth the required deadline for filing such
an appeal.  Requires an appeal to be made in writing and specify the
probate master's conclusions to which the party objects. Authorizes the
parties to present witnesses on appeal to the referring court as in a
hearing de novo on the issues raised in the appeal.  Requires notice of an
appeal to be given in the manner provided by Rule 21a, Texas Rules of Civil
Procedure (Notice).  Authorizes cross appeals and sets time limits.
Requires the referring court to hold a hearing on all appeals by the 30th
day after the initial appeal. Authorizes parties to waive the right of
appeal before the start of a hearing before a probate master. Authorizes
the waiver to be in writing or on the record.  

Sec. 54.619. APPELLATE REVIEW. Provides that failure to appeal to the
referring court the approval by the referring court of a probate master's
report does not deprive a party of the right to appeal to a court of
appeals or the supreme court. Sets forth the controlling date for the
purposes of appeal.  

Sec. 54.620. IMMUNITY. Provides that a probate master appointed under this
subchapter has the judicial immunity of a probate judge.  

SECTION 2. Amends Article 2.09, Code of Criminal Procedure, to add a master
appointed by the judges of the statutory probate courts to the list of
officers who are magistrates.  

SECTION 3.  Effective date: September 1, 1999. 

SECTION 4.  Emergency clause.