Judge Sandra L. Watts
Sandra Watts has served as the Presiding Judge of the 117th District Court for 15 years. She was first elected to the bench in 2003 and has run unopposed in each subsequent election. Serving the citizens of Nueces County as a District Judge has been the greatest honor of her professional career. Although there have been many accomplishments during her judicial career, she is proudest of three major contributions to the judicial system. First, she created and presided over the first specialized court in Nueces County. In addition to her regular judicial responsibilities in the 117th District Court, Judge Watts started the Nueces County Divert/Drug Court in 2004 and served as its presiding judge for six years. The program was started to give first time drug offenders an opportunity, through participation in a year-long rigorous Court-monitored program, to turn their lives around and avoid the adverse effects of a criminal conviction. In 2007, the Executive Office of President George W. Bush, Office of National Drug Control Policy, recognized the Nueces County Divert/Drug Court as one of the most successful drug court programs in the nation. Second, Judge Watts was instrumental in initiating and implementing for Nueces County the Jury Online Response Program. Prospective jurors can now respond to jury summons online and be assigned directly to a particular Court for a particular case. Prospective jurors are notified by text and/or email of case the date and time to appear. Additionally, if a case settles, jurors can be notified that their appearance at the Courthouse is no longer required. Save Time, Respond Online began October 1, 2016 and has been a positive improvement to our jury system, saving jurors time and the county money. In October, 2017, Judge Watts initiated a Pre-trial Risk Assessment Program in Nueces County to reduce the jail population by releasing low risk offenders awaiting indictment and/or trial, and who were unable, for whatever reason, to make bond. The cash bond system was resulting in due process violations and jail overcrowding. Judge Watts developed a pre-trial risk assessment tool and began making bond decisions in April, 2017 for her Court on the basis of whether the offender was a flight risk or a risk to the community. The results were impressive. In August, 2017, The Texas Indigent Defense Commission awarded Nueces County a grant to expand the program to all eight Nueces County District Courts, with the goal of Nueces County being the model program for all Texas counties. The Nueces County jail population has been dramatically reduced with substantial tax payer savings. Indigent defendants, who have not been found guilty, can now wait for indictment and/or trial in a non-custodial environment, without the usual adverse effects to their employment, their families and/or the community.
Judge Sandra Watts graduated first in her class from South Texas College of Law in 1980. She received a MA degree from Rice University and BA from Texas Tech University. She has four children, eight grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. She has received numerous community honors and has served on numerous community boards and commissions during her professional career.