Perusing the long list of local candidates who qualified for public office last week, I was surprised to see a large number of Justice of the Peace (JP) and Constable candidates in Bossier Parish. Not really aware of the work these folks do, it was a good time to research these offices.
JPs and constables run in specific districts of the parish; their terms are for six years.
Per state law, qualifications for JP and constable candidates include being “… of good moral character … a resident of the ward and district from which elected and able to read and write the English language correctly.” These candidates must also possess a high school diploma or the equivalent.
Candidates for these offices must be under the age of 70 – unless they are currently serving or were elected to their office on or before August 15, 2006.
Once elected, every Justice of the Peace and constable is required to attend at least one of the Justice of the Peace Courses offered by the Louisiana Attorney General’s office every other year.
State law dictates that there is one constable for each justice of the peace court – with exceptions based on population. In parishes with populations exceeding 400,000, the elected constable can appoint as many deputies as he/she deems necessary.
A Justice of the Peace court has concurrent jurisdiction with the state district court in the parish in which both are located. JP courts have jurisdiction over issues concerning the possession or ownership of movable property, the value of which does not exceed $5,000. These courts also hear eviction matters concerning leased property regardless of the value, in both residential and commercial situations. Additionally, these JP courts can address a variety of issues involving parish ordinances.
A JP can administer oaths, notarize sworn statements, bills of sale and a number of other legal documents involving movable property only. A JP can also perform marriage ceremonies.
JP courts have limited jurisdiction and state law prohibits these courts from handling a long list of legal matters, including cases involving title to immovable property, civil or political rights cases, divorce, adoption, succession and probate matters, and a host of other matters that must be handled at the district court level.
But JP courts do have some criminal jurisdiction “… as committing magistrates and shall have the power to bail and discharge …” (La. R.S. 13:2586C(1))
Constables serve these courts much as our local sheriffs departments serve district courts, issuing summons and serving subpoenas. A constable of a JP court can sell property ordered seized by the court at public auction, and act as a prosecutor in certain cases before the JP court.
In Bossier Parish, the Bossier Parish Police Jury pays each of the parish’s seven Justices of the Peace and constables $300.00 per month. The state pays each $100.00 per month. Bossier Parish Treasurer also noted that, “neither JPs nor constables are eligible for group health, dental or life insurance.”
But they can collect other fees, such as filing fees for suits and the various motions or additional documents filed in a matter before the JP court – a lengthy list of these fees is found in state statutes. Along with that list, state law also directs how these fees are handled; fifty percent of each fee or deposit is retained by the JP for fees and operational expenses – the other fifty percent goes to the constable for the fees and expenses of his office. A constable can also collect fees for service of legal papers and for other acts performed by the constable’s office.
JP courts and constables take some of the load off of district court and local law enforcement agencies by handling many, many issues in more timely manner than can be addressed by the higher courts.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org