The Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 seat has been vacant for nearly a month now since Judge Christopher Clark vacated the seat and was appointed to the vacant County Court at Law No. 2 seat.
That vacancy means Ector County is now one justice of the peace short of the four it should have, and with seven candidates running for the vacant position, there is a possibility of a runoff following the March primary, meaning it may not be until May that Precinct 2 sees another JP.
There was some worry by Precinct 4 Commissioner Armando Rodriguez that the absence of a justice of the peace in Precinct 2 would leave an unfair burden on the other three precincts, but Precinct 2 Senior Deputy Clerk Nicki Palmer said so far there hasn’t been any backlog developed, and the other justices have managed to handle any immediate cases that needed handling.
“That particular precinct has one of the lower volume courts anyway, because it’s mostly in the city limits,” Precinct 1 Judge Terry Lange said. “We primarily deal with highway patrol and the sheriff’s office.”
Precinct 2 also encompasses Gardendale as well as the city limits, Lange added.
Justices of the Peace primarily deal with class C misdemeanors and civil cases with a penalty under $10,000, such as eviction cases. Lange said anyone who received tickets in Precinct 2 would still be able to pay citations through the citations department or sign up for defensive driving if they are eligible. Anyone contesting cases in that precinct would still be able to go through a pre-trial procedure and talk to an assistant county attorney, and set up a regular trial at some point in the future.
This isn’t the first time the justices have had to deal with a vacancy. Lange said they previously had a vacant seat when former Precinct 2 Judge Dennis Bright retired in 2009, but that vacancy only lasted around a month, when Clark was appointed to fill the vacant position.
Some more immediate cases, such as evictions, would require another justice of the peace to preside. Precinct 3 Judge Woody Kupper said he has had to handle a few eviction suits in Precinct 2 since the vacancy.
“I’m just trying to pick up the slack,” Kupper said.
County Judge Ron Eckert said there were no plans on filling the vacancy at any point in the near future, and the commissioners’ court hasn’t discussed the issue, due to the seven candidates running for the position right now.
“We haven’t had an outcry from the public for any kind of significant backlog,” Eckert said. “It most likely would be taken care of by the other JPs.”
A runoff would decide the race as there are no Democrats vying for the seat.