JP court serves justice from temporary site

December 27, 2017

As one of the busiest Justice of the Peace Courts in Harris County, the Precinct 5, Place 2 office has a line of people waiting to conduct their business early afternoon on a Monday.

What’s different is Hurricane Harvey displaced the court from the Harris County Annex at 16715 Clay Road and now cases are handled in temporary quarters at 6127 Texas 6 N. What’s different, too, is that it’s just the JP and Harris County Sheriff’s deputies and not the other departments also housed at the annex such as the county clerk and the tax assessor collector. So, people accustomed to conducting all their business at one location, cannot for the present.

Court hours remain 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The court functions much as it did before, excluding jury trials.

“No jury trials yet,” said Judge Jeff Williams. “It’s just too small to get a 100-person panel in there and voir dire them.”

People with court dates do not need to show up earlier than before to allow for processing of their paperwork, he said. But, he encourages them to double check their reset notice dates, times and location.

Being based in a temporary facility has affected operations and the way matters are handled.

“We have had a rough time of it since the flooding, but we’ve been working very hard under difficult circumstances to resume normal operations as quickly as possible,” Williams said. Since October, the court opened to the public in the closed Peter Piper Pizza.

“I and the staff are very appreciative of the public’s patience as we get back to normal business,” he said.

“It’s been very difficult,” said the judge. “We went from no home at all, to small cubicles at another court with split shifts to eventually this temp location. It’s running surprisingly smoothly now from an administrative standpoint. I have a 6x8 bright orange closet for my office and a tiled storage room for a conference room. It’s been an adventure.”

While the annex building was damaged by floodwaters, most court documents survived. “Some old documents were destroyed in storage, but most everything else is online now so we’re pretty good in that respect,” Williams said.

“I want the public to understand we’re working hard and have made great headway in getting the court back up and running, but we’re still not completely there yet, and we ask for their patience and understanding,” Williams said. “We’ll be at the ‘Piper’ location until the county can build us a new building on Clay, but recall the county is at the same time, working on restoring the criminal justice system downtown; that’s a huge and expensive endeavor; the Justice courts are just one part of the big picture,” said Williams, who took office in January 2011.

The Clay Road annex build-back is 35 percent complete, said John Blount, Harris County engineer, on Dec. 15.

“Furniture for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office is scheduled for delivery mid-January with their move-in to follow once furniture is assembled,” Blount said. The target date is late January or early February, he added.

“The Justice of the Peace furniture is scheduled for delivery mid-February with their move-in to follow once furniture is assembled,” said Blount. That target date is late February or early March, he added.

The Precinct 5, Place 2 court’s website in part, reads, “This Justice Court is one of the busiest courts in the state of Texas with approximately 9,000 new cases being filed monthly and over $8,500,000.00 in revenues collected annually.”

Since Harvey, the caseload has decreased, Williams said. County officials also have promoted sharing the caseload more evenly between the Place 2 court and the Precinct 5, Place 1 court of Judge Russ Ridgway, Williams added.

But as more people become aware of the Precinct 5, Place 2 court’s temporary location, it has experienced an increase in business.

He credits the highest caseload to Judge Lincoln Goodwin, the Precinct 4, Place 1 justice of the peace.

Hurricane Harvey also flooded that courthouse which is closed for repairs. Court is operating at a temporary location.