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Monday, October 01, 2012

"Ask the Judge" column continues in La Prensa of SA, 9-30

Ask the Judge: How to appeal a decision
By Judge Steve Walker

In Justice of the Peace Court when a defendant/plaintiff loses a case, his/her only option other than to accept the verdict as rendered is to take it to the next level and appeal to County Court.

From the Justice of the Peace level unlike higher courts, where the verdict can be appealed to an even higher court all the way up to the Texas Supreme Court and even the US Supreme Court, defendants/plaintiffs get one chance at an appeal that will be determined by a County Court.

Justice of the Peace Courts are not considered a court of record. There are no official transcripts of the trial and no one such as a stenographer takes notes to pass them on. The legal term is trial “de novo” by law, a form of appeal in which the appeals court holds a trial as if no prior trial had been conducted.

The new judge hears the evidence as if it is the first time the case is ever heard, to be more precise. With a County Court Judge, the appealer gets a second hearing and technically a “second bite at the apple.” A trial “de novo” is common on appeals from Small Claims/Civil Claims Court judgments.

Should the person appealing the case file for a re-hearing, he/she must pay a mandatory filing fee in the Justice of the Peace Court within the time limits to set the case for re-trial in the County Court. It is referred to as a cash bond.

In the Small Claims Court, the case must be appealed within 10 days or the verdict is final and can not be heard in the higher court. If on the other hand the case is related to an eviction, the filer must do so within five days and post a bond that is equivalent to one month’s rent.

If they are unable to post the bond, again the verdict stands and after five days the tenant can be forcibly removed by the constable’s deputies who oversee the removal of all the tenant’s belongings that are put on the curb outside the residence. Until the case is re-set for hearing in County Court, the tenant is still required to continue to pay rent.

As previously stated the tenant must vacate within five days unless they appeal. Should they choose not to appeal within the five days, a writ of possession is issued on the tenant, and the constable’s deputies execute that writ and as previously mentioned, physically remove the tenant’s belongings from the premises.

When a person appeals in a Small Claims Court or in Eviction Court, it is highly recommended but not mandatory that the appealer hire an attorney since the standards for rules of evidence is a little more narrowly defined when they arrive in County Court.

Other cases in Justice of the Peace Court can be appealed, (truancy related, & traffic tickets) although the Small Claims & Eviction Courts are the most commonly appealed cases in JP Court.

Lastly as always, if you are due in court, be sure to show up to court on time. It is in everyone’s best interest.

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2 Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and a former Journalist.

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