FROM STAFF REPORTSSeeking a fourth four-year term, Hays County Justice of the Peace JoAnne Prado is staring down competition from both political parties for her precinct 1, place 1 bench.
San Marcos attorney Alex Aguirre is challenging Prado for the Democratic Party nomination in the March 1 primary. Meanwhile, two Republicans — Naomi Narvaiz and Sylvia Deleon Muzzy — are seeking their party’s nod to challenge the Democrats’ candidate in the November general election.
Justices of the peace are the judiciary’s Jack-of-all-trades. Their duties include adjudicating traffic violations and other Class C misdemeanors; executing search and arrest warrants; and settling civil disputes involving claims of $10,000 or less.
JPs also serve as coroners in counties without a medical examiner; perform marriages; decide whether to seize and euthanize dangerous dogs; and hear appeals when concealed- and open- carry handgun carry licenses are denied.
The candidates answered policy questions for the Austin Area League of Women Voters’ primary voters guide:
Education: San Marcos High School graduate. Bachelor’s degree of applied arts and sciences, Texas State University.
Experience: Working with youth and families within Hays County Juvenile Probation, San Marcos High School, and, currently, as a juvenile caseworker
Education: 1985 Graduate of Raymond Tirza Martin High School, Laredo
Experience: City, County & State Legislature Activism, Budgets, Staff Supervision, Office Management, Community Service, Recruitment, Team Building, Organization
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Texas A&M University. Juris Doctor, St. Mary’s University School of Law
Experience: Attorney practicing criminal defense (adult and juvenile) and civil law. Advising and advocating for mostly low-income Spanish-speaking clientele.
Education: San Marcos High School graduate
Experience: 30 years with Hays County working with the judicial system, 12 of those years as Justice of the Peace
Q: What should be the minimum qualifications for the position of Justice of the Peace?
Muzzy: Minimum qualifications for Justice of the Peace are dictated by the State of Texas. A candidate that has integrity is honest, stays connected to the community and should compliment them. Personally, I feel the impression of a college education has broadened my perspective, and coupled with my work experience with our Juvenile Probation Department, High School, and Justice of the Peace Courts makes me the ideal choice for the job.
Narvaiz: Our Texas Constitution does not list any statutory or constitutional qualifications for this office. However, our Election code does require that a person be a U.S. Citizen, Texas and precinct resident, be 18 years of age, and a registered voter. I believe the minimum qualifications should include those and personally I would add that a person be one that is active in one’s civic duties and be invested in the community via public service.
Aguirre: A JP, at a minimum, must have actual practice in the law. While not legally required, it cannot be replaced. Having represented real people would give the JP perspective in what people actually go through in the courts. No training can provide this, only experience. They must be aware of the all of the effects their legal decisions will have on the people. The JP must be a proven advocate for justice, conscientious of the people and their needs.
Prado: Should have complete knowledge and understanding of all duties and responsibilities of the Justice of the Peace and be able to effectively conduct the court to be fair and impartial over all cases filed.
Question: What are the funding needs of the office of Justice of the Peace?
Muzzy: After Commissioners make final budgetary decisions, I would be fiscally responsible by exercising my job while keeping the community’s best interest in mind. Specific funding that I would advocate for could include website upgrades for better customer service, computer and software upgrades, and a full-time truancy caseworker position to address challenges associated with our youth.
Narvaiz: The fundamental funding needs of the office are payroll/benefits, office operations, continuing education costs and jury costs. Funds should be used for effectiveness of the office and nothing less. Taxpayer dollars should always be used wisely and any monies not used should be faithfully returned to the owner.
Aguirre: The funds needed must be adequate to cover the salaries of those working for the courts, as set by the Commissioners Court. The financial footprint should be as small as possible without sacrificing justice for mere efficiency. Any additional funds should be used for programs to get people out of the court system. Allowances for continuing education are necessary, however, allowances for magistrate duties should be limited to mileage only.
Prado: Currently this office is in need of another full time clerk. Due to the growing population in Hays County and with the volume of cases filed in the court the need for another employee would most definitely be beneficial. More funding is needed in this office for continuing education for my staff in order to keep up with all changes made by the legislature as it pertains to the office of the Justice of the Peace.
Q: What issues need to be addressed regarding process serving and customer service?
Muzzy: I am open to discussing alternative and innovative methods to the traditional serving process used in our courts. As a public servant, I will emphasize customer service. My office will model what it is to be polite, friendly, respectful and efficient to the public. Our county website could be more customer friendly in outlining processes and procedures. As it stands, the website is geared to encourage people to pay fines.
Narvaiz: Respect and Efficiency. A justice of the peace should have be a good rapport with the person(s) performing these jobs and should personally invest time to train them in excellent service that is done in an ethical and proficient manner. Process serving and Customer Service can be difficult jobs but how we approach others can make it manageable. Our office will always remember that we are servants first and the people are our boss.
Aguirre: The people are not “customers” but individuals with rights. The court must be about justice, not raising revenue. Identifying indigent parties ensuring equal access to the courts. Increase awareness of rights. Be available to law enforcement. End death inquests done by telephone. Civil process should be done with minimal disruption to the individual. Court summons should be preferred over warrants to avoid needless incarcerations.
Prado: All process service is handled by the constable and or a private processor. In regards to customer service I have a very efficient and knowledgeable staff that are available to assist anyone who comes to the office. Currently all my staff is cross trained and can assist with all matters at the window.Email | Print