Montgomery County Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace candidates discuss priorities, qualifications

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Two candidates are vying for the position of Montgomery County Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace and will be on the ballot in the Nov. 6 election.

Matt Beasley and Claire Lindsay are both running for the position, currently held by Judge Edie Connelly, who is not seeking re-election this year. According to the Texas Association of Counties, the justice of the peace presides over the justice court in cases involving misdemeanors, small civil disputes, landlord/tenant disputes and more. They also conduct inquests and may perform marriage ceremonies.

To view a complete list of the duties and responsibilities of a justice of the peace in Texas, click here.

Matt Beasley
Republican candidate for Justice of the Peace Precinct 3
832-515-0389
www.facebook.com/mb4jp

Occupation: Chief of Staff, Montgomery County Commissioner Precinct 3
Experience: law enforcement, public safety, project management and government administration
Top priorities: provide better access to the court and transition death inquests to a countywide medical examiner.

Why are you running for Justice of the Peace Precinct 3?
Beasley: When Judge Connelly announced her retirement, I was contacted by several people in the community who encouraged me to run. I spoke with my family and after careful consideration, I decided that my unique qualifications, experience and public service to the South Montgomery County area would prove beneficial to the court and I announced my candidacy. I knocked on my first voter’s door in late October of 2017 and haven’t stopped since. I have always had a passion for the criminal justice system and this opportunity provides me a larger platform to continue my dedicated service to my community. I want to work with our local high school students and develop a teen court where they can interact with the criminal justice system and perhaps decide to choose it as a profession. If elected, I will serve with honor and work hard for the people of Precinct 3 every day.

What would you do during your first 100 days in office, if elected?
Beasley: I will work with the district attorney to develop a quarterly night court where defendants can resolve their charges without having to take time off from work. By doing this, I believe the collection rates will increase and resets to the court docket will decrease. I also believe failure to appear warrants will decrease, which would help with our overcrowding issues in the county jail. I believe having the court staff work a little later makes more sense than making 200 people take off work.

What do you believe makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?
Beasley: The justice of the peace court is known as the “people’s court” because it is the only court in the state where a non-attorney can preside as judge and a good majority of people represent themselves and do not use an attorney to handle their cases. In fact, according to state records, of the more than 800 justice courts [in Texas], only 60 have licensed attorneys presiding as the judge. The next judge of this court should have experience managing and leading staff, sound understanding of applicable law and a strong work ethic.

The judge of this court is going to be responsible for a lot more than hearing cases and making rulings. Justice of the peace Precinct 3 is a high volume court and leads the county in cases filed and disposed. I currently manage an administrative staff that is responsible for collecting, receipting and depositing fees into the county coffers, which is very important because the court does almost $2 million in collections a year. I also develop and submit a departmental budget for approval as well as submit monthly and annual finical reports to the auditor.

As for understanding and applying applicable law, I have the education and experience to properly hear cases and make just rulings. I have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration where I took course work in state and federal law, as well as constitutional law. I hold a master peace officer certification and I am required to complete state law update courses every two years.

Finally, a strong work ethic is essential to running this court. I believe my faithful service to this community has displayed my commitment to hard work and fairness. The way I have run my campaign is emblematic as to how hard I will work as your next judge, if elected. Remember on Nov. 6, the choice is easy, vote for Beasley.

Claire Lindsay
Democratic candidate for Justice of the Peace Precinct 3
281-305-2526
claireforjp3@gmail.com
www.claireforjp3.com

Occupation: attorney
Experience: Presently, I am a practicing trial attorney in this community, primarily representing children who are in foster care. I also represent parents and families in cases involving probate, guardianships and family law.

Top priorities
Make mediations a requirement to help resolve disputes in small claim cases. These civil cases make up the bulk of this court’s docket. This will help speed up resolutions of cases and reduce docket backlog.

Continue using the Montgomery County Collections Office to collect unpaid fines. This saves taxpayer money since an outside collection agency does not take their “cut” to recover unpaid fines.

Continue using the electronic filing system the county and district courts use as well as bring additional courtroom technologies in to save money and time to have a streamlined court.

Marry happy couples with a marriage license.

Why are you running for Justice of the Peace Precinct 3?
Lindsay: I am running for this position because of the positive impact this courtroom can have on our community and I am and have been committed to making a positive impact on my clients’ and others’ lives. One of the most important jobs as a justice of the peace is to preside over truancy court. The legislature provides justices of the peace latitude to help students to be successful and address the problems resulting in them not attending school. Additionally, I felt that an attorney needed to be in this court to be able to give fair rulings based on the law. I am the only candidate for justice of the peace with a law degree. Precinct 3 has the highest caseload of any justice of the peace court in our county. Judge Connelly has done a wonderful job over the last three decades. She got on this bench when there were about 5,000 people living in The Woodlands. Needless to say, our area has grown dramatically and the court is a vital part of resolving disputes and creating solutions for our community and students. As a justice of the peace, I am able to step in on day one and know what I am doing.

What would you do during your first 100 days in office, if elected?
Lindsay:
I plan on having a very basic discovery order on small claim cases to include that the parties are required to attend mediation before a final trial setting. Mediation is an extremely helpful tool in amicably resolving suits since, in reality, the two sides usually don’t sit down to actually discuss their differences. When people do sit down with a neutral third party they are able to resolve the case without further judicial intervention. The Dispute Resolution Center of Montgomery County send mediators to help the parties—I plan on utilizing them more. This saves taxpayer’s money and makes the courtroom more efficient to be able to hear cases that can’t be resolved in a timely manner.

Look into equalizing the fines assessed in criminal cases with other precincts in Montgomery County. A speeding ticket in Precinct 3 should cost the same in other precincts. Justices of the peace are able to set fine amounts within a range but I feel it is only fair that it is similar to what other justices of the peace are assessing for the same ticket. To do this, I would sit down with the other justices of the peace to try and come up with a fair ticket fine so it is even across the board.

What do you believe makes you the most qualified candidate for the position?
Lindsay: I am a graduate of The Woodlands High School. I received a business degree from Trinity University. I also have a law degree from New York Law School and am a member of the State Bar of Texas. A justice of the peace, is an arbiter of facts that makes findings and conclusions according to the law. Judges knowing the law is a good thing. So much so, a majority of the justices of the peace in Harris County also hold a law degree and have been practicing attorneys.

As a practicing attorney I am familiar with the law, as well as understanding, interpreting, and applying the facts to the law. It is what I do on a daily basis as a trial attorney representing clients in front of both judges and juries. Presently, I represent children who are in foster care and parents involved with the Department of Family and Protective Services. My clients have many legal issues that a justice of the peace hears—evictions, criminal, personal disputes as well as educational. I am comfortable in a courtroom and know that I have the training and temperament to be an excellent and fair justice of the peace.

Running for justice of the peace is a natural progression for who I am and what I have accomplished both personally and professionally. I am a wife and mother of two girls—Grace, 6, and Isla Rose, 7 months—and want to be a strong role model to them by giving back to the community. My husband, John, who is an Eagle Scout, and I created a Girl Scout Daisy Troop for Grace, in addition to being her room mom in kindergarten and pre-school. Isla is still mastering crawling and eating solids, but I know she’ll one day be a Girl Scout. For the past seven years I have been a committee member and committee chair for the Walk MS for The Woodlands.

Professionally, I have provided many pro bono hours for clients. I work closely with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) on my [Child Protective Services] cases to make sure children have their necessities covered and are getting the mental health and education services they need. Based on the above, I am the perfect candidate to take over for Judge Connelly because I have the smarts and the heart for this job.

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Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a full-time reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. She covers business, transportation, health care and other local news, specializing in Shenandoah City Council and Montgomery County nonprofit organizations.
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