“WHEN YOU HAVE LAW, WHICH IS SO BASIC TO ANY CIVILIZED SOCIETY, IT IS THE PROPER ADMINISTRATION OF THE LAW WHICH GRANTS THE CITIZEN BOTH JUSTICE AND EQUITY (EQUALITY)”
It has been said that justice is the principle of fairness one to another. There is a scripture that says “God enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards one’s fellow man; and He forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, as well as envy, and He exhorts you repeatedly so that you might bear all this in mind.” There is another that says “Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.”
In the next few articles, we will be examining the position of the Justice of the Peace, its historical conception and evolution and its relevance in “The Matter of Justice”.
The position of justice of the peace originated in England in 1361 with the passing of the Justice of the Peace Act. The Office of Justice of the Peace was established in 1362 by King Edward III of England. It is credited with completing the centralization of government in England and is an integral part of the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence
As the American colonies were being founded, one of the first offices established by the King was that of Justice of the Peace to establish and maintain order. . In colonial America the position, with its judicial, executive, and legislative powers, was the community’s main political force and therefore the most powerful public office open to colonists. The Americanized Justice of the Peace Court expanded to include taking acknowledgements, performing marriages and taking depositions. The colonial Justice was a person of recognized standing and Maintaining community order was a priority in the colonial era. The justice of the peace in this period was responsible for arresting and arraigning citizens who violated moral or legal standards. By the early 1800s, the crimes handled by the justice of the peace included drunkenness, Adultery, price evasion (selling below a minimum price fixed by law), and public disorder. Justices of the peace also served as county court staff members and heard Grand Jury and civil cases. The increasing number of criminal, slave, and tax statutes that were passed during the 1800s also broadened the enforcement powers of the justice of the peace.
When Texas became a republic, this grass roots court was quickly instituted. With the sparse population and the need for decentralized government, the Justice of the Peace became an integral part of the government. The Republic’s Constitution of 1836 specified that a “convenient number of Justices of the Peace” were to be elected in each county by qualified voters for two-year terms. Then, in the 1876 Constitution of the State of Texas, Article Five, Section One, the office of Justice of the Peace was again established as a court with judicial power.
Probably the most famous Justice of the Peace was the infamous Judge Roy Bean, the self styled “Law West of the Pecos”.
More to come.
Warren Fitzgerald, Jr. is a lifelong resident of the Acres Homes community, where he still lives and works. He is an attorney, author, and Associate Judge for the Municipal Courts of the City of Houston. Judge Fitzgerald is also a Candidate for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1, Harris County Texas.