The justice of the peace is a local position designed to handle minor legal matters in a community. Traditionally, a justice of the peace is responsible for performing marriages, witnessing signatures (i.e., as a notary public), and hearing oaths. In many states, a justice of the peace is an elected official, but in Massachusetts the role of justice of the peace is appointed by the governor. Fortunately for those interested in receiving an appointment, the process begins with an application and recommendations from the community. By completing several essential steps, you can be on your way to taking on a new role in your local area.
Contact the Massachusetts secretary of state’s office to see if there are any vacancies for justice of the peace in your community. The governor will not appoint a new justice of the peace without a vacancy, so it is important to find out what the current vacancy list looks like.
Acquire the application for justice of the peace from the secretary of state’s office and fill out all information clearly. Once you have completed the application, have it signed by five known and respected members of the community. These may include the mayor or other town officials or even business owners or business people of good reputation. Have the application notarized as well.
Submit the application to the secretary of state, or directly to the governor’s office. Expect there to be some delay in receiving word on the application and potential employment. Most states, including Massachusetts, now run background checks on justice of the peace applicants, and the background check can take some time.
Join the Massachusetts Justice of the Peace Association after appointment. Membership is not necessarily required of new JPs, but becoming a member of the association will provide you with statewide contacts and will give you knowledge about how justices of the peace work in other communities. Additionally, the association provides training for justices of the peace to ensure that they understand and know how to complete their local responsibilities.
While not required, a legal background can be an important asset in receiving an appointment for justice of the peace. Because JPs are legal officials, they need to have some knowledge of the law and handling small legal issues in the community. That being said, a community member with no legal background but who is well known and respected in the area, and who knows the city or town very well and has a proven commitment to it, can still apply for and receive a justice of the peace position in Massachusetts.