Presidio County unveils new mobile court kiosk 
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Presidio County unveils new mobile court kiosk 

Dec 18, 2023


By Sam Karas

June 7, 2023 744 PM

PRESIDIO — Last Wednesday, 394th District Court Judge Roy Ferguson and Presidio County Judge Joe Portillo unveiled a new mobile court kiosk in hopes of increasing access to the court system and legal services in South Presidio County. The kiosk will allow residents to seek free counsel, answer jury summons, print legal forms and more — all without having to make a special trip to the Marfa courthouse.

The kiosk is located in the courtroom at the Presidio County Annex. Annex staff will be available to help answer questions and troubleshoot the new system, provided to the county by the Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC), which aims to "empower low-income and rural Texans to engage with the court," the organization wrote in a press release.

Presidio County is one of a select number of jurisdictions included in the pilot program — eventually 25 will be distributed throughout the state, with hopes of growing the program as more funding is secured.

Included with each kiosk is an adjustable desk, a headset, a desktop computer and a printer. Kiosk users are directed to a home screen that allows them to respond to court summons and attend hearings, access free legal advice and register for counsel.

Ferguson explained that Presidio County was chosen in part because of its remoteness and number of residents below the poverty line. According to statistics from the TLSC, around 45% of rural low-income residents do not use a computer.

Anecdotally, Ferguson had noticed that a lot of folks in his court rely on smartphones to access the internet. "There's more of a digital divide here than you might find in some of the major cities," he said.

By getting the county's most vulnerable residents off their phones and into an actual courtroom — without having to travel 60 miles or more — he hoped more people would be able to participate in the justice system.

Ferguson considered the shift to online court proceedings an unlikely positive side effect of the pandemic. When the court went fully online during lockdown, response rates rose — but they weren't evenly distributed. "We could see that we had a gap," he said. "We weren't getting the response numbers from Presidio that we wanted to see."

Now, residents of Presidio and the more remote reaches of the county will be able to access services from closer to home. In addition to responding to jury summons and attending hearings, folks who want to represent themselves in divorce proceedings or responding to an eviction suit can print their forms and access advice free of charge.

County Judge Joe Portillo was also excited about the potential for the kiosk to help out-of-towners, too — allowing folks who left their visit to the area with low-level charges to participate without having to fly back to Marfa for court. "This is a very forward-thinking system," he said. "I think the more opportunities you have, the better."

The kiosk was an important milestone for Ferguson in a career staked on improving access to justice for people in Far West Texas. "Being a judge, you have the blink of an eye to do as much good as you can," he said. "The majority of the population in this county have been historically left out of the process. That's something we can't allow."

By Mary Cantrell

By Mary Cantrell

By Mary Cantrell