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Justices of the peace and constables still much needed

September 27, 2018

Re: “No fortitude to eliminate outdated jobs,” Editorial, Sept. 15:

This editorial was breathtaking in its continued and consistent misrepresentation regarding justices of the peace and constables in Bexar County.

The editorial describes them as “outdated” and “having outlived their usefulness in urban counties,” and then goes on to state that “taxpayers continue to foot a hefty price tag for these offices.”

The author of those words is ill-informed and blind to the facts.

If the services that those offices provide citizens are outdated, why does Harris County, the most populous county in Texas, have 16 justices of the peace and eight constables? Because so many people live in Harris County and need the services of those courts and constables, that’s why.

And it’s the same story in the other urban counties in Texas. Dallas County has 10 justices of the peace and five constables, while Tarrant County has eight justices of the peace and eight constables. Travis County has five of each, while El Paso County — which is less populous than Bexar County — has eight justices of the peace and seven constables.

We here in Bexar County, effective Jan. 1, will have only five justices of the peace and four constables.

The editorial states that our justice courts no longer handle truancy cases and this has “cut heavily into the workload of local constables and justices of the peace,” as though we now have little else to do.

Tell that to the clerks in my court and the other justice courts in Bexar County that handle thousands of cases, both civil and criminal, every single month.

As for the “hefty price tag,” the editorial states that Bexar County taxpayers have to foot the bill to pay for our offices. That is a “pants on fire” statement that the editorial writer should know is simply not true.

Justice courts not only pay for themselves, they generate income that goes directly into the general fund of Bexar County. While the purpose of our courts is to dispense justice in a fair and impartial manner and to settle disputes, a beneficial byproduct for the taxpayers of Bexar County is that we cost taxpayers nothing (zero, zip, nada) while providing both income in fines and fees to the county and much-needed judicial services, both civil and criminal, to our citizens.

And while the editorial declares that “further belt-tightening is warranted” by reducing the number of deputy constables, citizens are asking for more, not fewer, first responders in their neighborhoods and in their school zones.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw a state trooper, a deputy sheriff or a San Antonio police officer enforcing school-zone speed limits? Rarely, if ever. They are busy doing other important things.

For decades here in Bexar County, that responsibility has been discharged principally by deputy constables, and school districts could use more deputies if they were available. Keeping our kids safe from drivers speeding in school zones or drivers passing school buses while students are exiting is among the more important law enforcement duties that deputy constables provide.

Former Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court Wallace Jefferson and current Chief Justice Nathan Hecht both told me on separate occasions that more Texans get their impression of the court system and the system of justice in Texas from our justice courts than from county or district courts, because more Texans appear either as civil litigants or criminal defendants in our courts than in those other courts.

That is why it is so important that every citizen who comes to our court is treated with courtesy and respect.

It would be helpful if the Editorial Board of the Express-News would get its facts straight before denigrating us by making wild and baseless charges regarding our work.

Jeff Wentworth is judge of the Precinct 3 justice court and a former county commissioner, state representative and state senator.

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