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How Do I Become a Justice of the Peace in Texas?
Justices of the Peace, known as "JPs" in Texas political slang, are elected officials who hear minor civil and criminal matters. Candidates must be have been Texas residents for one year, residents of the district they will serve in for six months, a U.S. citizen and 18 years old. Justices of the Peace serve four-year terms. JPs do not need to have a law degree, or any degree.
How to become a Justice of the Peace in Texas
Find out what district you live in and when the election will be held. You'll need to know what district you live in because of the requirement that you have lived there at least six months. You'll need to know when the election is because there are important filing deadlines associated with the timing of the election, such as filing deadlines and campaign finance report deadlines. Answers to both of these questions can be found at the county courthouse, or at the offices of your local political party.
Appoint a campaign treasurer. In Texas, it is illegal to accept donations or spend money--even personal funds--unless a candidate has appointed a campaign treasurer. Forms for this appointment must be filled out and are filed with your local county clerk. The campaign treasurer will be responsible for tracking donations and expenses, and with filing periodic campaign finance reports.
Gather your supporters. Politicians don't get elected on their own effort. It takes the work of many volunteers to push them across the finish line. Volunteers will help you manage and organize some of the tasks of running for office. Volunteers can also help you by knocking on doors and introducing you to voters.
Get on the ballot. Texas is one of nine states where judicial candidates run in partisan elections. To become a Justice of the Peace, you will have to get on the ballot in your political party's primary election. This requires that you circulate and file a petition containing the 500 signatures, or pay a $1,000 filing fee. There may be a deadline associated with the filing of your nominating petition. If you are running in a primary, you need to file your nominating petition with the state political party or local county offices, depending on your location. If you plan on running against a Justice of the Peace who is a member of your political party, you may end up running against an incumbent JP. The bad news here is that incumbents retain a strong advantage, because most people have already voted for them. The good news is that if you oust an incumbent in the primary, you don't have to face them in the general election.
Stand for election. Assuming you have won the primary election, you will have to win a general election, usually held in November. During the period between the primary and the general, you will have to file periodic campaign finance reports.
Getting elected is very complicated and requires a deep knowledge of local politics. You may need to hire a consultant to help you manage a campaign, or hire a lawyer to help you manage some of the filing requirements. Lastly, you may need the support of political leaders, who might already support another candidate.
Philadelphia-based freelancer Pat Kelley has been writing since 2002, most recently for Scripps Texas Newspapers. He has won numerous awards for reporting. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science.