Justice of peace needs skill set - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Justice of peace needs skill set

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Posted: Friday, August 22, 2008 5:55 pm | Updated: 11:19 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Gilbert deserves a justice of the peace who knows the law. This position combines two of the things I am passionate about: I love Gilbert, and I love the law. What the people in the Highland district need to consider when casting their vote on Sept. 2, is what qualities, knowledge and experience a justice of the peace should have. I believe my education, experience and character make me the best choice.

It comes as a surprise to most people that to run for JP you need only be 18, live in the area, and read and write English; our community deserves much more than that. I am the only candidate who has been to law school.

A common misconception about the justice courts is that they only deal with traffic tickets. This is an important function they serve, but it is only one of many types of cases that come before the JP court. JPs hear cases where up to $10,000 is in dispute, individuals can be sentenced up to six months in jail or an eviction can be ordered. A JP can also issue search warrants and orders of protection. These cases involve complex legal issues that rest upon significant and fundamental civil rights; specific rules of evidence, court procedures and constitutional protections must be observed and enforced. Any judge must be intimately familiar with all of these aspects of the law, and the justice of the peace is no exception.

Our state and federal constitutions provide that a citizen cannot be deprived of "life, liberty, or property without due process of law," (A.R.S. Const. Art. 2 4. U.S. Constitution Amend. XIV 1). "Due process" is a term that has specific legal meaning which many state, federal and Supreme Court decisions have defined. A JP must understand the implications of the rulings he makes, not only looking at the specific situation involved, but in looking at that situation through the lens of these guaranteed constitutional rights.

The JP's duty is to administer the law. A JP must be able to listen to a person's story, identify the legal issues, understand the law that applies to those legal issues and then apply that law back to the individual's situation, looking at the totality of the circumstances. The cases that come before the justice courts are not simple. While common sense and fairness are critical attributes a JP must have, standing alone, they are not enough. They must be coupled with a sound understanding of law and the ability to do legal analysis. It is in this area that I am specifically qualified for this position. This is what law school has taught me: how to break down cases and apply the law to individual situations.

Our political system relies on a separation of powers between those who legislate and those who adjudicate. Our laws should reflect the desires, values and priorities of the community. If laws do not, they should be corrected through the political process. It is not the place of a JP to ignore or refuse to administer them - judicial activism is inappropriate and a disservice to the community. A JP must apply the law unless it is violates protected individual rights. If he fails to do so, either intentionally or through ignorance, he has declared his judgment superior to that of the community and its elected representatives. A judge must not allow himself to fall into the trap of making broad, unsupported decisions, believing that the ends justify the means. Judicial restraint must be exercised, and I will be diligent in this regard.

Finally, a JP must be ethical and honest in all aspects of his life. A judge is a judge at all times and must conduct himself in a manner that is consistent with the respect due his office. He must be honest and have the highest degree of integrity in everything he does.

When voters consider all of the tools, knowledge and characteristics our community deserves in our justice of the peace, they have the opportunity to choose a candidate who possesses them. I am that candidate.

Jeffrey "JC" Cox is a candidate for justice of the peace in the Highland district in Gilbert.

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