Four candidates have filed to run for Denton County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, including former Flower Mound Councilman Al Filidoro.
Filidoro joins incumbent J Hand, as well as Harris Hughey and Scott Smith. All of them have filed to run in the Republican Primary, which takes place March 4, 2014. As of press time, there have been no candidates to file from other political parties.
The justice of the peace court hears Class C misdemeanor cases, such as bad checks, traffic tickets and truancy cases. It also accepts criminal complaints, issues warrants, orders arrests and performs wedding ceremonies.
Filidoro, who served on the council from 2007 to 2012, is a family law attorney and a mediator at the Filidoro Law Firm.
"I was asked by several people in the Republican Party to consider running," Filidoro said. "With my experience, I think this position is a good fit for me."
Filidoro said he wants to bring fresh ideas into the court. He said one issue he wants to focus on is truancy.
"When someone starts with truancy, that's the first step to juvenile delinquency," Filidoro said.
Filidoro said he is working with a company that produces life videos, ranging in topics to assist young children to retired adults. He said he would like to incorporate relevant videos to the JP court system to assist truants.
"When truants and their parents come in, part of what they would have to do is to view the video," Filidoro said. "Why can't we look at a program similar to drivers education? When someone comes in to the court for truancy, the child and their parents must complete a course and have the certificate brought to me. I want more understanding and more outreach. And if that works, it could allow other JPs to do it."
He said finance education videos could also help people who are in credit card debt.
Filidoro said he also wants to address the intimidation that often comes with going to court. With new rules being implemented by the Texas Supreme Court, Filidoro said JP courts now include rules of discovery and rules of evidence by the judge. He suggests a pre-court plan.
"If we can let people know what to do and what they can bring, it can de-mystify the experience," Filidoro said. "That will allow them to continue to represent themselves."
Filidoro said he also fears there are too many cases in this court that get appealed to the county level.
"When courts have a high level of appeals, that means something is wrong," Filidoro said. "I pledge to make the appeals go down. Residents won't be double-billed because the first one didn't go that well."
For information, go to www.alfilidoro.com.
Hand is seeking re-election after serving as justice of the peace for two terms, dating back to 2007.
According to his website, Hand, a Flower Mound resident, has served as delegate at several State Republican Conventions and the preceding Precinct and Senatorial Conventions.
Hand’s has been a U.S. Department of Justice criminal investigator, a supervisor for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Enforcement Group and a DEA Intelligence Unit supervisor.
Hand has been appointed to the Texas Crime and Narcotics Advisory Commission two times and has been regional sales manager for a manufacturer of intelligence equipment to law enforcement agencies.
His website states that he has received training by the DEA, Federal Drug Administration and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Hand said his history, including juvenile cases and working in the narcotics field, is what makes him a good judge.
"I think the more life experience you have, the better judge you can be," Hand said. "There's not a lot I haven't seen."
Hand said one of his attributes is empathy.
"Imagine a guy whose company has been downsized. He has lost his job, and he has gone through a foreclosure," Hand said. "I listen. I have a lot of empathy, and I treat people with dignity."
Hand has not been an attorney, but he said that is actually a good thing for the JP court.
"I try to simplify the court," Hand said. "Lawyers can sometimes overlook the simple things."
Hand said he once dealt with a case where the lawyer presented 47 pages of questions.
"Lawyers try to ask questions of people who just want something fixed, just to intimidate them," Hand said. "The realty is that it's a simple solution that has evaded some folks."
As far as the claim that the court has a lot of appeals, Hand agrees but said it's because Precinct 4 has more highway miles than other precincts. So when a truck driver gets a ticket, he said it could impact their commercial drivers license and ultimately their job.
"You can count on it being appealed in hopes that the trooper won't be in court," Hand said. "I never see the [cases]. They stall as long as they can, then the lawyer files an appeal."
Hand said in the last year, there have been 3,908 cases in his court. Of those, he said 184 have been appealed, but all of those came without going to trial.
For information, go to www.judgehand.com.
Hughey, a Northlake resident, has been an attorney for 17 years, both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney. He said that experience is needed in this court.
"The justice of the peace court in Texas is the only court where you don't have to be an attorney," Hughey said. "My understanding is that we haven't had an attorney run for this before. I want to give voters a choice so they can have someone who understands the legal principles and applies that to any law."
At his practice, The Law Office of Harris R. Hughey, he handles cases in criminal defense, such as drunk driving, traffic tickets and drivers license suspensions. He also handles personal injury cases, business law, equine law, divorces and wills and probate.
"I would hit the floor running," Hughey said. "With 17 years of experience, I know what the law is. There would be no learning curve for me."
Hughey agreed that the number of appeals in Precinct 4 is a problem.
"I've been practicing in this court for a long time," Hughey said. "There are many cases that are appealed to the county level for various reasons, including, but not limited to, judicial error. The problem with numerous appeals is that they clog up the county courts, and they cannot operate efficiently, therefore, costing taxpayers money. When someone can apply the law to the facts, and I can, through several years of experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney, the number of appeals will go down. When appeals go down, taxpayers win."
Smith, a Trophy Club resident, said he has served the community in some capacity since he moved to the area 30 years ago. That includes serving as mayor of Trophy Club from 2001-2005 and on the city council before that.
"Serving is a passion of mine, and I enjoy working with people," Smith said. "I think I can bring in a fresh approach."
Smith said one of the things he would like to do, if elected, is to make the precinct office more convenient for residents.
"I want to look at the office's hours," he said. "Sometimes when you're only open until 4 p.m., you eliminate the people who work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can't get their for a court case. I also want to make sure we're open during lunch time. That's the time people can come down and take care of things. And I want to look into possibly having the office open one night a week for better access."
Smith said it's important for the court to have a good working relationship with area school districts.
"I want to be proactive in educating the youth about things before they even make it to court, like the consequences of drinking, using tobacco and truancy," Smith said. "I want to have seminars to let kids know that there are consequences."
Smith said he also wants to set up a teen court system, and he wants to have regular meetings with other JPs to see what efforts work and what doesn't.
As far as the claim that there are too many appeals in the court, Smith disagrees.
"When the judge rules, there will be a winner and a loser," Smith said. "I would try to be a mediator first. I wouldn't try to establish the law, just protect and administer it."
For information, go to www.elect-scottsmith.com.