Getting hitched at the courthouse downtown is not technically eloping anymore; nowadays many couples use a justice of the peace to conduct marriages, but one case is being made through a My San Antonio Online editorial for justices of the peace to hold a law license for their position of privilege and responsibility. Justices of the peace preside over small-claims court, truancy cases, evictions and civil matters involving $10,000 and less, as well as handling traffic tickets. While that’s not exactly rocket science (or immigration law) complexities among statues and regulations can arise quickly and be difficult to detangle, especially in large metropolitan areas in Texas. A San Antonio lawyer with a background in existing state and county legal intricacies would be better equipped to confront some of these challenges.
The current requirements for holding the office of justice of the peace are simple: U.S. citizenship, 18 years or older, Texas residency for a year and only a six-month residency in the justice of the peace district. Prior political or civic involvement doesn’t enter into the list of consideration on an applicant’s resume, and knowledge of the community isn’t a prerequisite either. Historically, justices of the peace served to fulfill legal duties in rural areas of Texas where sparsely populated lands made a nearby licensed lawyer a rarity. One San Antonio lawyer notes that while that made sense then, the current legal complexities faced by justices of the peace now in places like Bexar and Cameron County complicate the situation. Urban settings with heavily-populated communities require more familiarity with navigating regulatory practices, and the author of the editorial piece compares potentially ignorant justices of the peace to court judges lacking knowledge of the law.
In fact, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, an independent state agency created by a 1965 amendment to the Texas Constitution, is responsible for investigating allegations of judicial misconduct, disability and for disciplining judges. The bulk of its workload is related to complaints about the behavior of justices of the peace. Most reprimands issued to JPs by the commission are directly attributable to their lack of professionalism and understanding of the law, so it follows that being a San Antonio lawyer, not just a JP, would significantly reduce the commission’s cases and workload.
Justices of the peace get certain perks, too. In addition to being able to pocket the money they charge for performing a marriage ceremony, they get to collect fees for signing waivers to the mandatory 72-hour waiting period required in Texas between obtaining a marriage license and getting married. Being a San Antonio lawyer wouldn’t help this, though, as only district judges are allowed to sign these documents in Bexar County, but the Cameron County JP who’s racking in almost $200 per ceremony has drawn the attention of the district attorney, who has requested an opinion from the Texas attorney general on the issue. The specific and monetary personal benefit from JP’s ability to judicial orders is in question by the public and scruples about the judicial profession in the county is finally receiving media attention.