Before ever stepping into the current offices for the Ellis County Justice of the Peace Pct. 2, the cosmetic and security issues are prevalent.
Overgrown bushes and faded once-blue paneling greet visitors outside of the doors of the building. There is also currently no immediate access to southbound Interstate-35E, as the northbound service road stops at Waxahachie Creek.
And that's just the front of the building.
In the rear of the county-owned facility sit three storage containers, which serve as "secured" record-keeping units. They sit roughly 50 yards from a motel and are not separated by any sort of secured fencing.
The building does not improve once inside, either. There are ceiling tiles damaged throughout, thermostats that operate random portions of rooms that they are not even in and a large area of water-stained carpet around the judge's bench in the courtroom.
In fact, it was only a couple weeks ago that Jackie Miller, Jr. had to remind those seated in his courtroom that "we don't allow umbrellas" as water began to run out of an overhead air vent.
The comments from the longstanding Justice of the Peace drew laughter in an otherwise unhappy and potentially hostile environment.
"It's easy to laugh about when you don't have any control over it. You can get angry, which doesn't do anything other than raise your blood pressure, or you can deal with what you are given and be glad that you have another day to deal with it," Miller said from inside the courtroom. "It is a privilege to serve the people of Ellis County. It is a privilege to serve in this building in the sense of what it is we do. But it is an eyesore and it has outlived its purpose."
Miller began his public service career with Ellis County in 1995, serving as the chief clerk for since-retired judge Rusty Ballard for about two and a half years. He was then appointed to Justice of the Peace on Dec. 10, 1997 — which was quite the birthday present.
Born and raised in Ellis County, Miller can still recall when the current JP3 building was a fish buffet in late 1987 and into early 1988.
Miller was there when the county moved into the building later that year. He was also there when the courtroom expanded to a maximum capacity of about 45 people.
And, God-willing, Miller will also be sitting in the judge's chair when his office moves into a brand new building in the next 18-24 months.
The Ellis County Commissioners Court passed a measure, 4-0, during their July 20 regular session that will fund the new construction. Paul Perry, Pct. 3 commissioner, abstained due to a conflict with the bond council.
The motion passed shortly after 6:30 p.m., which was roughly four and a half hours after the meeting commenced.
"I was actually shocked," Miller said. "We have heard for years that we are getting a building but then one goes up here or the economy goes down, and I totally understand that because this is taxpayer money. Which is another reason that I've never asked for another building because I pay the taxes too. I did not think it would happen, because of the past. I was taken aback and grateful to the individuals on the court that decided to do it."
The passage allows for Ellis County auditor Miykael Reeve and her office to approve a one-year bond note valued at $4.9 million. The note will fund three projects — the JJAEP at the juvenile services center on the county farm, County Court at Law No. 3 inside the Ellis County sub-courthouse, and the offices and courtroom for Justice of the Peace Pct .2.
According to Erik Test, who serves as the chief of staff for Ellis County judge Todd Little, approximately $3.5 million of the $4.9 million total will be spent on the JP2 building.
Test also noted about $3.4 million of the total allotted will be paid out of the county's current fund balance, while $1.5 million will be paid out of the taxes collected in 2020.
"This has been a process," Test said. "This is something that my predecessor started and they were pretty far along in the process, but things got in the way and it didn't get built."
Test also explained that the goal is to find a central location for the new home of the Justice of the Peace Pct. 2 offices, which could also include space for Ellis County Ag Extension, constables, the tax office, a large meeting room and more.
The central location in Waxahachie is the top priority, Test and Miller both noted, because of the areas served by JP2. Miller's court currently handles any and all Texas DPS arrests, tickets or fatalities that occur in the county, all truancy cases for school districts other than Red Oak and a host of other matters in Maypearl, Italy, Waxahachie and down to the Hill County and Johnson County lines.
The responsibilities of the court range from performing marriages to enforcing liens on personal property to dealing with foreclosures or conducting preliminary hearings.
Miller's court heard the most cases of any of the four Justice of the Peace offices in the county in 2018. The same could be said for most years prior, too.
And those numbers will only continue to rise, as much of precinct is still under development or has land to grow.
That area also includes the 10,000-home Emory Lakes subdivision planned in western Waxahachie.
Miller noted he hopes the new building will at least double the capacity of the courtroom and increase security, with the latter being almost non-existent now.
"It has served its purpose and it has served its purpose well, but we have outgrown it," Miller said. "And, unfortunately, it is an eyesore and it's an embarrassment — not to me, I'm never embarrassed to work here. But it is an embarrassment to the county when you look at all of the other new buildings.
"[...] Since I have been in office here, we have literally heard hundreds of thousands of cases — some in person, some by mail — in this office. It has served its purpose, but we have outgrown it, and probably 15 years ago."