Who are “special commissioners” and what do they do?

Once a condemnation petition satisfies the requirements of Section 21.012 of the Property Code, the judge of the court in which the condemnation petition is filed must appoint three disinterested real property owners who reside in the county to serve as special commissioners.

The purpose of appointing special commissioners is to create an administrative proceeding. The judge acts purely as an administrative agent. The judge appoints commissioners and administers their oath of office. The Property Code requires the judge to give preference to persons agreed upon by the parties. The judge must provide each party a reasonable period to strike the name of one of the commissioners. If this occurs, the judge must appoint a replacement commissioner.

The commissioners in condemnation proceedings are a special tribunal. Once the commissioners are appointed, they must file an oath with the court stating they will fairly and impartially assess damages according to the law. After taking the oath, the special commissioners should schedule a hearing as soon as possible, but not sooner than twenty days after they were appointed. The commissioners are given powers similar to those conferred upon a court and are required to administer fair and equal justice between the landowner and condemning entity. The commissioners assess the damages ("just compensation") to be paid for the condemned property. The validity of the commissioners' proceedings depends upon their strict compliance with statutory requirements.