FROM STAFF REPORTSFive candidates — three Democrats and two Republicans — hope to fill the unexpired term of Pct. 1, Place 2 Justice of the Peace Margie H. Hernandez, who died of cancer last May less than six months after winning re-election.
The contenders include Maggie Hernandez Moreno, daughter of the late Judge Hernandez and former Hays County District Attorney Marcos Hernandez Jr. The younger Hernandez, a Texas Department of State Health Services prevention specialist, has two opponents for the Democratic Party nomination: Sandra Sepulveda Lopez, a Hays County Pct. 5 constable’s clerk, and Scot Courtney, a San Marcos criminal defense attorney.
Two Republicans are also in the running. Independent filmmaker Shane Scott, a Texas State criminal justice graduate and former San Marcos Civil Service Commission chair, was twice elected to the city council before losing a re-election bid in November. James “J.D.” Elshoff, who pastors a Disciples of Christ congregation in Austin, is a retired attorney appointed in 1994 to serve as an interim justice of the peace in Cascade County, Mont.
The candidates answered policy questions for the Austin Area League of Women Voters’ primary voters guide:
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science and resource management, Texas State University (SWT) 1990; Juris Doctorate, Thurgood Marshall School of Law 1994.
Experience: 21 Years experience as a criminal trial attorney. Board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in criminal law.
Education: 1998 San Marcos High School graduate. Majoring in criminal justice and with a minor in forensic psychology at Texas State University. Texas justice court training in civil process and civil office management.
Experience: 10-plus years justice court experience and civil office management, TCIC/NCIC Certified, TLETS Certified, Justice of the peace courtroom interpretation in Spanish.
Education: San Marcos High School graduate. Junior at the University of Texas San Antonio pursuing a degree in criminal justice with a minor in legal studies
Experience: I supervise the state programs in 28 counties, provide education to the community thru public speaking, and ensure grant deliverables are met.
Facebook: Moreno campaign
Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of Iowa, Iowa City; Juris Doctorate, Western State University College of Law, San Diego
Experience: 31-plus years law practice; former JP in Montana; Professor, School of Criminal Justice, Texas State University; Teen Court Judge, San Marcos
Facebook: Elshoff campaign
Education: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Texas State University
Experience: Five years experience in municipal government
Q: What should be the minimum qualifications for the position of justice of the peace?
Courtney: I think a minimum educational requirement of a bachelor’s degree is a reasonable expectation. I also I think that a Juris Doctorate (law degree), along with practical experience in the courts and/or the criminal justice system would best serve larger and growing counties, such as Hays County. While formal education is important, practical experience can also be an invaluable asset to any candidate seeking to serve the citizens as justice of the peace.
Lopez: I believe that the minimum requirements to hold the office of justice of the peace should include work experience and formal education in a related field as well as involvement in the community you seek to serve. My experience as a justice clerk coupled with my education in criminal justice provide a firm foundation on which to build a streamlined department that will efficiently serve the community.
Moreno: As it stands now, the minimum qualifications for this office are determined by the state. To qualify, a candidate must be 18 years of age, a resident of the State of Texas, a district resident and registered to vote in the area elected from. It is up to the voters if they want candidates with additional qualifications such as a university degree, law license or a working knowledge of the criminal justice system.
Elshoff: All judgeships should be filled by an attorney licensed to practice law. Poor decisions precipitate unnecessary appeals and trial de novo.
Scott: Currently a high school diploma is all that is required to hold the office of justice of the peace in Hays County. Many other counties have pushed to only allow attorneys to represent the office. I personally believe a justice of the peace would lose the public point of view by requiring a law degree. A law degree is not a hindrance but it takes away from the human touch and does not allow one to be impartial.
Q: What are the funding needs of the office of justice of the peace?
Courtney: Staff salaries are always a priority to ensure that not only the current staff is adequately compensated for their hard work, but also competitive enough to attract candidates in the future, should any positions become available. Continued improvements in technology are also crucial to ensure efficient information and document management, as well as improve access to information and communication with the court staff.
Lopez: All county offices have the same general cost of operation: Personnel costs, office supplies, equipment, etc. While the bulk of the budget would be spent on those items, I feel that the greatest need in funding would be for training. It is important to invest in continuing education for all staff members so that they are able to the serve the public effectively.
Moreno: The funding needs for this office are difficult to state, since it has not been fully functional after the death of my mother, Judge Margie Hernandez in April 2015. One can only look at past budgets and estimate what the workload may be in 2018 when this office is fully staffed again. If elected, I would work with commissioner’s court to construct a budget that meets the needs of the newly combined place 1 and place 2 offices.
Elshoff: San Marcos is the fastest-growing city in the U.S., and the justice court is the busiest court in the state of Texas. It requires judges and experienced clerks who can process orders timely. Precinct 1 may very well need a third justice of the peace to meet the ever-increasing caseload. Additional support staff and technology are also needed.
Scott: Current funding needs have been set for the court until after the November 2016 election. The Hays County commissioners are responsible for allocating the courts funding. Prior to the position being opened the two presiding Justice of the Peace offices retained their own staff. In an attempt to save money, commissioners combined the staff for both offices. If elected I would work with staff to understand their needs to help with efficiency.
Q: What issues need to be addressed regarding process serving and customer service?
Courtney: Accessibility and cooperation with all aspects of the Court system, is a priority. The justice of the peace court must adapt to help the other components of the Court system work more efficiently. Additionally, any court is only as good as it’s staff; they are the ones that truly make a court function efficiently. Making sure they are confident in their responsibilities and prepared to serve, will ensure an effective and efficient administration of justice.
Lopez: Any issues with the service of process can be mitigated by fostering and maintaining a good working relationship with the Constable’s office which is primarily responsible for service of justice court documents. In terms of customer service, the justice court must never forget that it serves the people and I would ensure that all staff members treat everyone with dignity and respect.
Moreno: The office of the justice of the peace must continue to have an open communication line with the constable’s office in order to handle process serving in a timely and efficient manner. By providing as much information as possible to the constable’s office, the office of the justice of the peace can ensure that notifications regarding summons to appear before the court are provided to individuals within a reasonable amount of time.
Elshoff: Process-serving can be dangerous and should be carried out by a trained law enforcement officer; his or her safety is paramount. Customers are the parties named in cases filed with the court; they are entitled to respect and justice. I will ensure they receive it when I am elected.
Scott: This sounds more like a constable question when it comes to the serving process. The justice of the peace orders the constables office to serve papers to notify people when they need to address the court. When it comes to customer service the justice of the peace needs to be a friendly face which is on duty 24/7 and ready to serve at a moment’s notice when the public calls. Professionalism and impartiality is necessary to serve the public.Email | Print