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Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Ask the Judge" Column in Sunday's La Prensa of SA, 8-21

Ask the Judge: Law changes for JP Court
Judge Steve Walker

In this past 82nd Legislative Session hundreds of laws were passed that either amended existing laws or made new laws. All laws go into effect September 1st unless otherwise specified.

This column will address a few of those changes that will affect defendants & plaintiffs in Justice of the Peace Court.

House Bill 27 reads: When imposing a fine and costs, if the Judge determines that the defendant is unable to immediately pay the fine and costs, the Judge shall allow the defendant to pay the fine costs in specified portions at designated intervals. Translated: the defendant may be given 30 days to pay or be sent to Collections for a payment plan. This traditionally refers to traffic court, but includes truancy, and student disorderly conduct.

The law does not require a court to “always” inquire into whether the defendant is able to pay immediately.

Senate Bill 407: Justice Courts will process a very small number of “sexting” offenses because any such offense where the defendant is a juvenile “shall” be transferred to the juvenile court.

However Justice Court will process “sexting” offenses for 17 year olds.

House Bill 350: Referencing Failure to Attend School reads: the Judge may require these defendants to discharge their fines/costs via community service or tutoring program. However the defendant can discharge that order at any time by paying the fine.

They get a minimum of $50 credit for each 8 hours of community service or tutoring. In Justice Court Pct. 2 one community service/tutoring hour is calculated at $6.25. If the fine is say $ 62.50, that amount is divided by $6.25 to compute the hours. That equates to 10 hours.

As the defendant completes the community service/tutoring hours and they periodically pay part of the fine as time pases, the time it takes to complete the hours along with money is reduced and completed in a timelier manner.

House Bill 2717 amends Section 132.002 Local Government Code to allow courts to accept payments by electronic means and to charge related fees. Translated: you do not have to appear in person to pay a fine. This law went into effect June 16th.

Next week we will cover some more bills that have been amended or are new bills.

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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