The candidates for Ellis County Justice of the Peace Pct. 3 include Republicans Dan Cox, Erik Test, and Theresa Peel, and Democrats Sharon Levinston, Broderick Sargent and Tyron Davis. Sargent and Davis did not respond to the questionnaire. Levinston could not be reached.
1. Though a justice of the peace does not necessarily have to be a practicing lawyer, you are responsible for overseeing minor legal disputes such as civil cases under $10,000 and landlord-tenant disputes. What experiences do you have in dealing with these matters?
Erik Test: I am set graduate from Texas A&M School of Law in May. I took comprehensive courses on Torts, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, and numerous others that are applicable to this position. Furthermore, if elected, you are required by the State of Texas to take 80 hours of training your first year. I will comply with these standards, as well as continuously seek out additional training, as it is an obligation to the precinct to stay up to date on statues and the law.
Dan Cox: Naturally, over the course of 30 years I have handled legal matters of the type you have mentioned. There are common issues in most legal matters such as jurisdiction, venue, legal capacity and burdens of proof that must be dealt with. My experiences with these matters, as both plaintiff or defendant’s attorney, gives me the ability to have an evenhanded understanding of the rights of both sides of the dispute.
Theresa A. Peel: I have significant experience in handling these matters. I have utilized courts as a consumer and as a party advocate more than any other candidate. I have owned rental properties for over 30 years. I was a Judge hearing appeals for Health and Human Services. When I began hearing appeals, the docket was behind more than 2 years costing the taxpayers millions of dollars. As a hearing officer, I was one of three Judges hearing cases, saving the taxpayers millions by getting the docket current. I have more experience than all of the other JP candidates combined sitting on the bench as a judge. My record representing civil, criminal, and juvenile clients is extensive.
2. In relation to the above question, say, for instance, the tenant is a family member who is suing a landlord whom you have never met. How would you handle that situation?
Erik Test: I will hear all cases with objectivity and fairness, as well as apply my knowledge of the law to my decision making. Every case is unique and requires objective scrutiny. My legal education has strengthened both my ethical resolve and my ability to remain objective. However, if I felt that I could not be objective then I would recuse myself.
Dan Cox: Any judge has the obligation to recuse himself from handling a case that he would be unable to make fair and impartial rulings. No matter what the circumstance is, the need for recusal is not always an obvious one, but if needed it would be necessary to have another judge handle the case.
Theresa A. Peel: I would immediately disclose my relationship to all parties. If my relationship is such that there is even an appearance of impropriety or conflict, the law provides options for cases such as this. One option would be to recuse myself and ask another member of the bench to hear the case. Another option would be to have a jury trial thus allowing the jury to decide the issues. Ellis County is a very small community, and as a Justice of the Peace, when I take the bench, I have no relationships with the litigants. The facts are facts and the law is the law. I am committed to being fair and impartial.
3. Have you ever faced any disciplinary actions in your professional career?
Erik Test: No.
Dan Cox: No, I have not.
Theresa A. Peel: I have had to respond to uncomfortable letters from clients on several occasions. Through my lifetime experiences, I have had multiple opportunities to improve. While engaged as an Engineer and not practicing law, I relinquished my Nebraska bar card for a year after complaints, rather than return to Nebraska.
Over 30 years ago, I was a single mother with two small children, ages 1 and 2, working as a computer professional full time to provide for my girls. I was unexpectedly called at 11pm one evening to report to work the following morning at 5am to assist in a conversion. I reported to work at 5am with my 2 girls in tow having not had time to secure child care. Management wrote me up and placed me on probation for being a single parent. Thankfully, we, as a society, have made great strides in celebrating parents and families. That same company was honored recently as one of the best places to work for families.
4. Ellis County averages about 7,000 civil cases a year between the four JP districts. Many of those disputes involve minor traffic incidents or civil cases. Dealing with that number of cases in addition to daily duties such as attending fatal accidents to pronounce a victim deceased requires quite a bit of time management. What experiences do you have that will benefit you in managing the workload?
Erik Test: My number one priority is to implement an e-file system. Utilizing the e-file system will save the taxpayers time and money. Furthermore, this will allow me more time to allocate to other matters. I also plan on working with local attorneys to assist in meditation resolving small claims. I will have the attorneys come in once a week to meditate the cases. This method will reduce trial time tremendously. To implement these programs, I will work closely with other elected officials to ensure we are serving our residents as effectively as possible.
Dan Cox: Many times in my law practice I have had a number of critical issues that arise at the same time, for instance, having dealt with several complex murder cases over the years, some requiring multiple weeks of intense trial and months and months of preparation also required the ability to maintain other matters pending in the normal course of business. This “balancing act” requires not only the proper use of personal time but the proper allocation of staff and technology resources. Additionally, during my time as a production manager for a nationwide business, there were deadlines and emergencies that had to be met, many times on a daily, but certainly weekly basis.
Theresa A. Peel: As a professional, I have always maintained a full schedule, yet been very flexible. I thrive when I serve. Currently, I collect books for the jail and elderly, assist the homeless, serve as a Lions Club member and officer, as a board member for the Ellis County Republican Women, serve as the presiding officer for the Ellis County Bail Bond Board, and am the President of the Ellis County Bar Association. I am championing the Veterans Treatment Courts and other alternative treatment courts in Ellis County.
But none of these are as fulfilling as serving God and my community with my talents and experiences. I am managing partner for the Law Office of Theresa Peel, handling complex and simple cases. I am the property manager for multiple properties. I am always a phone call away and available when crisis calls.
I have been a multitasker from a very young age. As a teenager, I graduated high school in 3 years, working an almost full-time job, and sometimes 2 jobs, in the band, and various other activities. As an adult and single parent, juggling 2 children's activity schedules, a full-time job, always taking some kind of classes, and a full plate of volunteer activities.
I have always used technology to keep me on task as well as the tried and true method of making my TO DO list first thing every morning.
5. Use this space to inform the voters on what separates you from the other candidates.
Erik Test: If elected, this will be my only focus and my full-time job. I will give this precinct the time and attention it needs to be the convenient resource for its residents that it's intended to be. I will bring back truancy cases. The parents in Precinct 3 should have their elected Justice of the Peace hear their children’s truancy cases, not another Ellis County Justice of the Peace. Young people are leaving the Republican Party at record numbers. There is a need for young leadership in the party, and it starts at the local government level. I will serve the residents of Precinct 3 by hearing all truancy cases, and making myself always available to anyone who has concerns. I am dedicated to giving Precinct 3 the time and attention it deserves to make it as effective and efficient as other Precincts in Ellis County.
Dan Cox: My lifetime experiences of dealing with the law, with the people, participating in different sports, both as a player and a coach and dealing with both church and civic activities has prepared me to interact with the citizens of Ellis County and more specifically, as Justice of the Peace Precinct 3, in a proper, yet caring manner. Some decisions are hard and most decisions are going to disappoint one side or the other. My past experiences in f both wins and losses allows me to have a perspective that I don’t believe my opponents have. Though they are good people, my lifetime has prepared me for this job. Also what sets me apart from my opponents is that since my appointment as Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3, I LIKE the job; it suits me. I feel as though all of my life experiences have prepared me to be the Justice of the Peace for Precinct 3. I enjoy hearing cases while remaining impartial and letting the presented facts speak-making way for me to make a fair and equitable ruling. I like marrying people who are obviously in love and committing themselves to one another. While inquests aren’t fun, they are necessary. I do my best to lift the people I meet with kindness, compassion and words of encouragement to let them know I’m there, I care and they are not alone. I also enjoy letting an occasional young child sit at my bench, talking to them about what it is I do, encouraging them to make a ruling, such as telling big brother, “Order in the Court” before striking the gavel. Their smiles light up the room. I make sure to encourage these children and let them know their dream can become their reality with hard work. The highlight of my day yesterday was reading to the children at their school; they seemed to enjoy it and so did I. I want to make this something I do on a regular basis. Our children are our future and they must be heard and encouraged. I want to lift our community up and make Waxahachie a better place for all of us.
Theresa A. Peel: My energy, drive, and enthusiasm for life, for service to the community, and for my fellow citizens separates me from the other candidates. I am an executive decision maker! I am not looking for my first job, nor my last job. As with everything that I do, I will go above and beyond for the citizens of Ellis County.