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Constable Carlos Lopez and his deputies assist the citizens and courts of Travis County

Carlos B. Lopez, Constable

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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - February 2007

At a recent neighborhood association meeting I was asked about the role of justices of the peace (JPs) in our judicial system. Last November Travis County voters re-elected three justices of the peace (Richard Scott northeast, Barbara Bembry northwest and Herb Evans central) and elected two new JPs (Susan Steeg, southwest and Raul Gonzales, southeast) to serve Travis County citizens.

The office of JP was first established in 1363 by King Edward of England and was among the first offices established in the American colonies in 1620. The first Texas JP was appointed in 1823 for the Colorado District of Stephen F. Austin's first colony. Up to the time of Texas’ admission to the United States in 1845 real government in Texas consisted primarily of JPs and constables.

JPs are elected in precincts (Travis County has five JP precincts) to four year terms. Unlike trial or appellate judges, JPs do not have to be attorneys and unlike trial and appellate courts, litigants may represent themselves. Of the 900+ JPs serving Texas’ 254 counties, only about 50 are attorneys. All Travis County JPs are attorneys. JPs and their staffs are prohibited from offering any legal advice.

Justice courts have original jurisdiction in criminal matters of misdemeanor cases punishable by fine only and such other jurisdiction as may be provided by law. JPs perform the functions of magistrates and conducts inquests, issue warrants for search and arrest, conduct preliminary hearings, administer oaths, perform marriages, and serve as coroner in counties where there is no provision for a medical examiner. The justice court functions as a small claims court in civil matters of up to $5,000 in damages. JPs also have jurisdiction over matters involving foreclosure of mortgages and enforcement of liens on personal property.

Travis County JPs estimate that more than 115,000 civil and criminal cases will be filed in the five justice courts in 2007. The vast majority of cases are criminal cases comprising mostly of traffic offenses. About 10% are civil cases and another 10% are truancy cases filed by school districts.

While JPs determine the outcome of civil and criminal cases, constables are charged with the responsibility to ensure due process and enforce court orders whether it is to serve notice of suits, execute arrest warrants, seize money or property to satisfy judgements or evict tenants (or to put them back in their apartments).

Filing fees to initiate civil cases in Justice Court are $20 and issuance fees are set by each commissioner’s court. An index of Travis County issuance fees may be found at www.Constable5.com.



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