By SEAN WARDWELL
The Buda area may finally be getting a new Justice of the Peace.
Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) has narrowed a short list to four candidates to run Justice of the Peace Precinct 5. Barton expects to put a recommendation before the commissioners court at the Feb. 3 meeting.
The finalists are Janette Sheldon, Scott Cary, Rick Norton and Connie Freeman. All reside in the Buda area.
Former Texas Ranger Tommy Ratliff was set to take over for the retiring Lamont Ramage on Jan. 1, but the commissioners ended up tabbing Ratliff as sheriff after Allen Bridges died on Dec. 6. Ramage agreed to put off his retirement until the county could find another replacement.
Looking to avert the turmoil that surrounded Ratliff’s appointment as sheriff, Barton set up a committee on his own to vet prospective nominees. That committee has narrowed the list of applicants from 17 to four people it feels are qualified.
Barton wanted to have a finalist for this week’s court meeting, but the committee hasn’t yet come to a decision.
“We just gave an update,” said Kara Bishop, Barton’s executive assistant. “The committee will be ready to announce Tuesday.”
Norton is a retired Austin Fire Department Lieutenant and a long-time resident of Buda who cites extensive experience in emergency scene management.
Freeman worked for a local dentist and is a longtime community volunteer who expressed a desire to help families.
Cary, a graduate of the FBI Academy and 30-year Hays County resident, was named Officer of the Year three times by the Austin Police Department.
Sheldon recently moved to the area from Kansas, where she served as a district court judge. Sheldon is the only person among the four with a formal legal education.
Justices of the Peace in Texas do not have to be legal professionals. No current Justice of the Peace in Hays County is even a lawyer. However, Barton’s criteria for evaluating prospective nominees included, “Experience with and/or exposure to legal principles, law enforcement and the judicial system.”
Other criteria included legal and residency requirements, a long-term interest in holding the job, appropriate temperament, community involvement and education.
Justices of the Peace courts handle Class C misdemeanors and minor civil matters. Under Texas law, they also can issue search and arrest warrants, serve as a small claims court, and individual justices may serve as county coroners in the absence of a medical examiner. The position pays around $53,000 per year.