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By Udo Birnbaum

In praise of JP courts

I wanted to see for myself how they do things in the justice of the peace courts where there are fewer lawyers involved. The JP courts handle disputes up to $5000, and criminal matters so long as it is only a fine, i.e. no jail time.

There was to be a civil trial in about an hour 1. So I ducked in next door at the county agent office and the genealogy library. Those folks got some real neat stuff in there and real friendly people. Go by there sometime.

Then back to the JP court. The judge asked each side to briefly state their case. Plaintiff claimed that work done to the motor of an old car was defective, and the car place would not honor their warranty. Defendant claimed the car was never being left long enough to fix it, but that they would honor their warranty.

Then the parties put on their witnesses. Next the judge asked if they were through, because he himself wanted to ask some questions, and he did. Then he called for a fifteen minute recess.

When we were called back in by the constable, the judge read from the judgment he had just prepared. The car place was to fix the car in a reasonable time, and was to call the judge, not the plaintiff, when it was ready. That the car would be inspected by a neutral mechanic to be appointed by the judge, and then the plaintiff could pick up the car.

Then the squabbling started again. "How do I get the car down there?" Judge: "Take it down there." "What is a reasonable time for them to fix it?" Judge: "We all know what is reasonable, and if you can't agree, I'll decide whether it was reasonable", or to that effect. End of Case. Total time a little more than one hour, including the fifteen minute recess.

Everybody could of course have brought a lawyer or two or asked for trial by jury. But at least in this case everybody went away without having legal fees, and the problem certainly was no worse then when they came to court.

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I will at another time compare this common sense and fairness approach to the 1995 "beaver dam" matter upon me, which still hangs in the District Court, eight years later, among the 5000 plus cases backlog, and the ever-expanding disputes over legal fees literally in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And incidentally, while at the county agent today, I found out that "my" beavers were re-introduced into Van Zandt County by Parks and Wildlife in the 1970's.

So go turn off Judge Judy, Judge Brown, etc. , and go visit one of our JP courts, and see the real thing!

1 Justice of the peace pct. 2, Hon. Ronnie Daniell.
Pd. pol. adv. Udo Birnbaum, 540 VZ CR 2916, Eustace, TX 75124