The Justice of the Peace in Precinct 3 has been a part-time position for 30 years, through all of Judge Keith Baker’s tenure while he maintained a separate law practice. After a recent audit showed 10,000 warrants have been in limbo in his court since January, Judge Baker announced he will retire at the end of this year.
First, District Attorney Susan Reed got the word out that all of those warrants will be served within the next two weeks.
“So, I strongly suggest to the public that if they’ve ever had a ticket or a citation out of JP3 that they have ignored, that they need to get it taken care of," said Reed. "Because what could eventually happen to them is that they could get arrested on that Failure to Appear Warrant.”
Why such a backlog?
Reed said part of the problem was a resistance on the part of Baker to install new computers, "because he wouldn't have the MCAD system. He didn't want that to come in and he was the only JP, so they were having to run dual systems."
County Commissioner Kevin Wolff indicated that Baker may have been stalling the paperwork in retaliation for losing half of an administrative position during county budget cuts.
“We’ve come down a number of position across the entire county, including the D.A.’s office, have really tightened their belt," said Wolff. "We asked that from all of the JPs. All of the JPs did the same thing, including Judge Baker.”
But Reed said the situation doesn’t mean people are off the hook.
"As of today," said Reed, "I've been told Information Services was putting out about 2,900 cases."
Reed said the balance of the 10,000 cases will be processed in the next two weeks.
Finding a replacement for Baker
Wolff said the law calls for commissioner’s court to define the process.
“I can anticipate that there will be a couple or three weeks where any interested applicant will be able to go online, fill out the application, and then send it in to here," said Wolff. "We’ll go through a process of vetting those and then eventually interview some folks.”
Wolff said Precinct 3 has the busiest court in the county and there may be a need for a second position, but Reed clarified that adding a second position is a bit more complicated.
“What you’re talking about is if they decide if they were to supplement it with another part-time or a full-time or even try to change the part-time into a full-time, that’s something we then have to turn around and get a pre-clearance on from the Justice Department,” said Reed.
Commissioner court is scheduled to vote Oct. 9 on the process and timeline for filling Baker’s position, and would then vote on applicants sometime in November or December.