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How Does the Texas Justice Court Work?

Texas Justice Courts are county-level trial courts of limited jurisdiction in the Texas judicial system. Sometimes referred to as Justice of the Peace Courts, these courts have jurisdiction over certain types of criminal and civil cases heard in Texas, as stipulated by Texas Government Code Title 2, Subtitle A, Chapter 27. Generally, the Texas Justice Courts hear the following types of cases:

  • Civil matters where the amount in controversy is not more than $20,000, excluding interest (this does not include matters that are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Texas District and County Courts)
  • Matters involving forcible entry and detainer
  • Criminal matters involving Class C misdemeanor offenses that are punishable by fine only
  • Matters involving the expunction of proceedings related to the arrests of individuals for offenses that are punishable by fine only (the Justice Courts share jurisdiction with the District Courts and the Municipal Courts that are courts of record over these types of matters)
  • Matters related to the enforcement of a deed restriction of a residential subdivision that does not concern a structural change to the dwelling (the Justice Courts share jurisdiction with the District Courts over these types of cases and are not limited to any maximum amount in controversy)
  • Matters involving the foreclosure of mortgages and the enforcement of liens on personal property (the Justice Courts have jurisdiction only in cases where the amount in controversy is not more than $20,000)

When carrying out its judicial duties, the Texas Justice Courts do not have jurisdiction over the following types of matters:

  • Matters involving suits for divorce
  • Matters involving suits to recover damages for slander or defamation of character
  • Matters involving suits for a trial of title to land
  • Matters involving suits for the enforcement of a lien on land
  • Matters involving suits brought on behalf of the state to recover a penalty, forfeiture, or escheat

Texas Justice Court judges are referred to as justices of the peace. Justices of the peace are selected through partisan elections held in the precinct where the court is located. There are no specific statutory requirements for the election of an individual as a justice of the peace. However, individuals that wish to be elected as justices of the peace generally meet the following criteria:

  • Must be citizens of the United States
  • Should be residents of the state of Texas that have lived in the precinct where the Justice Court is located for at least six months
  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Must be mentally competent
  • Must not be a convicted felon

Justices of the peace serve four-year terms. Newly elected justices of the peace must attend a minimum of 80 hours of training administered by the Texas Justice Court Training Center within one year of their election. These justices will also be required to undergo at least 20 hours of continuing education training annually for as long as they remain in office.

In addition to their judicial responsibilities, justices of the peace have several administrative duties, including supervising the court office and court personnel and keeping proper records of court activities and expenses. Justices of the peace are also authorized to perform wedding ceremonies, and they may also act as ex officio notaries public.

Texas justices of the peace are statutorily empowered to appoint individuals to serve as clerks of the court. These appointed clerks perform the following duties:

  • Maintain central docket records for all the cases filed in the court
  • Maintain indexes of all court judgments issued in cases heard in the court.
  • Assist the justice of the peace in handling matters brought before the court and perform any other duties required by the law. These duties include issuing citations.

Clerks also have the authority to administer affidavits and oaths, make certificates, and affix the court’s seal to these certificates.

Trials held in Justice Courts are usually without a jury. However, every defendant in the state of Texas has the right to demand a trial by jury. The length of time it takes before a judgment is issued in a Justice Court case depends on the type of case being heard. Once a judgment is issued, any unsatisfied party may either file a new trial motion or appeal the court’s decision.

Motions for rehearing a case should be filed not more than five days after the judgment in the case was issued. In comparison, petitions for appeals should be filed not more than ten days after the motion for a rehearing was overruled, or ten days after the judgment in the case was issued for parties that do not file a motion for rehearing. Texas Justice Courts are not courts of record; therefore, when a case is appealed, the case is tried de novo at the state’s County Courts or District Courts.

Records of Texas Justice Court cases can be obtained by contacting the court where the case was filed and heard. Persons who wish to access and obtain copies of these records may be required to pay a fee before doing so. Contact details for the Texas Justice Courts can be gotten via the Texas judicial system’s online directory.

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