When I retired last year after a long career in governmental affairs and public health care, I felt I still had a lot to offer. The time seemed right to go into public service and I filed to run in the Democratic primary for Justice of the Peace in Galveston County’s Precinct 3.
I believe some of the best practices that have been developed in the public health care system can have an equally important application in the justice system. There’s an old saying that “a good doctor treats the disease … a great doctor treats the patient.” The same could apply to our courts where judges would consider the defendant’s circumstances, as well as the crime.
Much of my health care background has been with the Harris County Hospital District. Usually operating under a deficit, we have had to make sure we get the most out of every dollar. We discovered early on that the most medically effective (and cost-efficient) treatment lies in our community health centers and primary care clinics — where we can help patients deal with problems early on before they become a major medical crisis in our emergency rooms.
The justice of the peace court is oftentimes the entry point for many offenders who enter the justice system and where the vast majority of individuals have any interaction with the justice system at all. These important courts handle a wide-range of low-level cases — both civil and criminal, including animal abuse, truant youths, landlord-tenant conflicts, small claims and misdemeanor criminal offenses.
Not unlike primary care clinics, the “People’s Court” is well-positioned to help many individuals deal with problems while they are relatively minor and hold a genuine opportunity to make a positive change in a someone’s life.
I think of justice of the peace courts as “Community Courts.” These courts are in a unique position to engage and reflect the community they serve and come up with new and creative responses to low-level offenses. In criminal cases, these courts can combine punishment and help, requiring offenders to pay back the community by participating in restorative service projects while also participating in social service sanctions such as drug or mental-health counseling. In civil cases, such as housing disputes, the justice of the peace court could bring new resources to help create long-lasting solutions.
Our justice of the peace courts have always dispensed common-sense justice. Today, they have the potential to assume a problem-solving role in the life of our community, bringing people together and helping craft solutions to the problems that face our community and improve the trust between citizens and their government.