State bill could prevent some Lubbock JPs from re-election - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

2/17/09

State bill could prevent some Lubbock JPs from re-election

LUBBOCK, TEXAS (KCBD) - On Wednesday, February 18th, Justices of The Peace from across the state of Texas are expected to be in Austin. That is because a senate sub-committee will be discussing a bill that would prevent some justices from seeking re-election in 2010 including three from Lubbock, and it could cost the taxpayers. 

It is a real life people's court, now in session. On this day, Precinct Four Justice of The Peace Jean Anne Stratton will hear truancy hearings. "My best training for this is being a mother," Stratton said.

Elected to office in 2006, Judge Stratton says training and life experience helped prepare her to hear small claims, civil and criminal cases. However, under Senate Bill 320 Justices of The Peace in counties with more than 200,000 people would have to be licensed attorneys to hold the job. That is something Judge Stratton, Judge Jim Hansen, and Judge Jim Dulin are not.

"The reason this court exists is to be run by the people, of the people, to handle minor disputes. There is no place for this bill, it has no legs," Judge Jim Hansen said.

For decades voters have decided who would fill the seat, be it private citizen or attorney. However, Judge Stratton says if the bill passes, taxpayers could bear the burden. "To attract an attorney to this position, I think they are going to have to pay them more or else the attorney will only work part-time and that's going to be an unfunded mandate for Lubbock County," Stratton said.

The bill's author Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio tells NewsChannel 11 the bill is intended to make Justices of The Peace more qualified than some are today. He adds, clearly someone who is licensed to practice law and understands the rules of evidence is better qualified to decide those cases than someone who is not.

Both Judge Hansen and Stratton disagree. "I'll put my 19-years of experience and 30-years experience in court up against any attorney," Hansen said. "Population doesn't define a judge's dedication to doing their job and their ability to discern," Stratton added.

Senator Wentworth says of the 254 counties in the state of Texas, only 20 would be affected. If the bill passes, one out of every eight justices of the peace would be removed from office at the end of their current term.

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