The Justice of the Peace is the legal jurisdiction closest to the average citizen. It is often referred to as "The People's Court". Justices of the Peace serve both as Judge and Magistrate. There are currently four Justice of the Peace precincts in Ellis County, each elected to a four year term.
The Justices adjudicate class C misdemeanor cases punishable by fine only, including traffic tickets, penal code offenses, and issuance of bad checks. Law Enforcement agencies, including but not limited to the Ellis County Constable offices in each precinct, Ellis County Sheriff’s Department, Department of Public Safety, Ellis County Department of Development and other local department agencies file complaints in the justice criminal court. Justices, as Magistrates also deal extensively with juvenile matters including school attendance cases, minor alcohol and tobacco violations and juvenile magistration hearings.
The Justice of the Peace has authority to preside over County and State ordinances; including burn bans, environmental violations involving illegal dumping and other administrative hearings such as illegal towing, and animal cruelty cases.
The Justice of the Peace has exclusive jurisdiction in all civil matters in which the amount of controversy for property and or damages does not exceed $20,000, INCLUDING attorney fees, but EXCLUDING court costs and interest. Every party to a civil suit has the right to request a jury proceeding. Justices sit in judgment of Small Claim cases, Debt Claim cases, Eviction cases, Repair and Remedy cases involving landlord and tenant matters, possession of property concerning foreclosure of mortgages and enforcement of liens on personal property, and occupational driver’s license hearings.
As Magistrates, Justices of the Peace issue warrants for search and arrest, preside over arraignments, admonish prisoners, and set bonds. They also conduct property hearings, examining trials, handle emergency protective orders and County wide coroner duties for inquests on deaths that occur when not attended by a physician and approve cremation orders. Additionally and one of the more privileged duties carried out by the Justice of the Peace is to officiate over marriage ceremonies.
Plaintiffs and Defendants may represent themselves in any case before the Justice Court. All parties are urged to discuss their case with licensed legal counsel for any legal advice or questions prior to filing any case, answer and or criminal plea with the Court.
The Rules of Judicial Ethics explicitly states that Justices and the Clerks of the Court must be impartial and are prohibited by the rules to offer legal advice or to express any opinions of law. The Justices and Clerks of the Court cannot tell any party how to present their case, hear any part of a case, or discuss the merits of any case unless all parties are present.
The Justices and Clerks of the Court are accessible at any time during normal business hours and can answer any questions of general nature, regarding procedures of the Court and questions concerning Court Costs and Fines.