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Sunday, December 02, 2012

"Ask the Judge" Column continues in La Prensa SA, 12-2

Ask the Judge: Origin of Justices of the Peace
By Judge Steve Walker

With all the different types of Judges to include District Judges, County Judges, Appeals Judges, Supreme Court Judges, and more, do you ever wonder where Justices of the Peace originated?

They actually go as far back to 1195 when King Richard the Lionhearted of England commissioned certain knights to preserve the peace in unruly areas of the country.

Those knights were responsible to the king for ensuring that the law of the land was upheld. The term they used was “keepers of the peace.”

An act approved in 1327 had actually referred to "good and lawful men" to be appointed in every county in the land to "guard the peace."

At that time they were referred to as “conservators of the peace” or wardens of the peace. The actual title "Justice of the Peace" derives from 1361, in the reign of King Edward III.

Justices of the Peace still use the power conferred or re-conferred on them in 1361 to contain unruly people and encourage them to behave. It was designated to serve as a preventative measure, intended to ensure that people thought likely to offend would not do so.

The Justices of the Peace conducted arraignments in all criminal cases, and tried misdemeanors and infractions and local ordinances as we do to this day.

Now let’s fast forward to the present. In Texas each county in the State of Texas is required (by the State Constitution-1836) to have between one and eight Justices of the Peace--depending on population. Also, and again, dependent upon population, each Texas precinct is required to have either one or two Justice of the Peace Courts. Texas currently has 828 such courts.

Texas Justices of the Peace have jurisdiction over Class C misdemeanor criminal cases, and minor civil matters. They may also issue arrests or warrants, and may act as the coroner for counties that do not have a medical examiner. Justice of the Peace Courts may also function as small-claims courts.

In Bexar County we have six Justices of the Peace with two in Precinct 2, two in Precinct 1 and one each in Precinct 3 & 4. Bexar County JPs never serves in the capacity of coroners since we have numerous medical examiners available.

Justices of the Peace, unlike most judges, are not required to be attorneys under the Texas Constitution of 1836. Of the 828 current Texas JPs, over 750 JPs are not lawyers to include two in Bexar County. In January that will change to reflect one non-lawyer in Pct. 1.

Under Section 12 of the 1836 Texas Constitution: “There shall be appointed, for each county, a convenient number of Justices of the Peace….to be elected by the qualified voters of the district or county, as Congress may direct.”

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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