Yes, I was reviewing the statute;
It appears that the case was assigned to a commissioner so to speak - not a full time judge. Here is the code that addresses that, (below):
But basically if a case is referred to the associate judge's caseload, and the parties don't object, after the initial hearing, either party can apply for a de novo hearing with the regular judge; it is designed to make the system more efficient even though it can actually result in delays- since any party can request a second hearing.
The new judge will re-examine issues, so that they will reconsider all of the facts, etc.
A traditional appeal requires a mistake of law, and a new trial requires new facts, but the de novo process under this statute does not have that requirement. So even though it is designed to save time/money unfortunately it does the opposite if one of the parties file
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Sec. 201.013. ORDER OF COURT. (a) Pending a de novo hearing before the referring court, a proposed order or judgment of the associate judge is in full force and effect and is enforceable as an order or judgment of the referring court, except for an order providing for the appointment of a receiver.
(b) Except as provided by Section 201.007(c), if a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court is not timely filed or the right to a de novo hearing before the referring court is waived, the proposed order or judgment of the associate judge becomes the order or judgment of the referring court only on the referring court's signing the proposed order or judgment.
Sec. 201.015. DE NOVO HEARING BEFORE REFERRING COURT. (a) A party may request a de novo hearing before the referring court by filing with the clerk of the referring court a written request not later than the third working day after the date the party receives notice of:
(1) the substance of the associate judge's report as provided by Section 201.011; or
(2) the rendering of the temporary order, if the request concerns a temporary order rendered by an associate judge under Section 201.007(a)(14)(C).
(b) A request for a de novo hearing under this section must specify the issues that will be presented to the referring court.
(c) In the de novo hearing before the referring court, the parties may present witnesses on the issues specified in the request for hearing. The referring court may also consider the record from the hearing before the associate judge, including the charge to and verdict returned by a jury.
(d) Notice of a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court shall be given to the opposing attorney under Rule 21a, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
(e) If a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court is filed by a party, any other party may file a request for a de novo hearing before the referring court not later than the third working day after the date the initial request was filed.
(f) The referring court, after notice to the parties, shall hold a de novo hearing not later than the 30th day after the date on which the initial request for a de novo hearing was filed with the clerk of the referring court.
(g) Before the start of a hearing by an associate judge, the parties may waive the right of a de novo hearing before the referring court in writing or on the record.
(h) The denial of relief to a party after a de novo hearing under this section or a party's waiver of the right to a de novo hearing before the referring court does not affect the right of a party to file a motion for new trial, motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or other post-trial motion.
(i) A party may not demand a second jury in a de novo hearing before the referring court if the associate judge's proposed order or judgment resulted from a jury trial.
Sec. 201.005. CASES THAT MAY BE REFERRED. (a) Except as provided by this section, a judge of a court may refer to an associate judge any aspect of a suit over which the court has jurisdiction under this title, Title 1, Chapter 45, or Title 4, including any matter ancillary to the suit.
(b) Unless a party files a written objection to the associate judge hearing a trial on the merits, the judge may refer the trial to the associate judge. A trial on the merits is any final adjudication from which an appeal may be taken to a court of appeals.
(c) A party must file an objection to an associate judge hearing a trial on the merits or presiding at a jury trial not later than the 10th day after the date the party receives notice that the associate judge will hear the trial. If an objection is filed, the referring court shall hear the trial on the merits or preside at a jury trial.
(d) The requirements of Subsections (b) and (c) shall apply whenever a judge has authority to refer the trial of a suit under this title, Title 1, Chapter 45, or Title 4 to an associate judge, master, or other assistant judge regardless of whether the assistant judge is appointed under this subchapter.