For a long time, Williamson County has had a proud reputation of being tough on crime. There’s even a saying, “Come to Williamson County for vacation; leave on probation.”
Unfortunately, with the Michael Morton case we’ve seen what happens when maintaining a reputation for locking up people comes at the expense of true justice. We need to be right on crime so we don’t waste taxpayers’ money by convicting and imprisoning the wrong people and destroying the lives of innocent men and women.
I am running as a Democrat for the position of Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3. I would be honored to have your vote to ensure that we honor and uphold the American values and Constitutional principles that every citizen deserves to be treated fairly by the courts regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age and economic status.
Following are my four main issues:
- The Justice of the Peace Court is the People’s Court. As a public service, the court should operate for the convenience of taxpayers, not for the convenience of elected officials. I will implement a night court and/or Saturday court at least once a month to accommodate working individuals.
- Justice of the Peace Courts should not be creating a debtors prison by jailing people who are unable to pay fines and court costs for nonviolent offenses. It costs taxpayers almost $150 a day to house someone in the Williamson County Jail, according to Sheriff Robert Chody. It is bad public policy to jail people because they cannot post bail or pay their fines for traffic tickets and nonviolent misdemeanors. Doing so causing them to lose their jobs, homes, transportation and disrupt their families. And it is a gross waste of taxpayers’ money! Offenders will be held accountable for their actions by using alternatives to jail, including community service and ordering offenders to attend drug and alcohol programs.
- Justice of the Peace Courts should not be viewed as a source of revenue for the county. Encouraging Justice of the Peace Courts to aggressively fine people and levy court costs to fund other county operations is a recipe for unfairly fining people who can ill afford the expense.
- Justice of the Peace Courts should be accountable for how justice is meted out. Currently the Justice of the Peace #3 Court does not track how cases are disposed of by demographics. Historically, people of color have been disproportionately affected by the judicial system both in terms of sentencing, incarceration and fines. I will monitor how cases are disposed of to ensure that justice is truly just.
The Justice of the Peace court too often serves as a gateway to the criminal justice system.
As a newspaper reporter covering police and criminal and civil courts, I saw inequities in the system. I also saw when justice was served, when people are held accountable and when innovative approaches were taken to help people overcome and learn from their mistakes.
As a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer advocating for children, who through no fault of their own ended up in the foster care system, I saw the downward spiral families and children encounter when mistakes are made because of addiction, poor choices and poverty.
As a 22-year resident of Williamson County, I believe the time has come to apply my life experiences and serve the people of Williamson County in a broader role.
Can we hold people accountable for their actions AND direct people to resources that will help them rather than forcing them into an expensive system for taxpayers that causes harm to them and future generations? Yes!
As a person of faith, how am I called to serve others with justice and mercy?
For example, if a parent is charged with truancy because his or her child has missed school I want to understand the reason why. If that child missed school in order to care for a younger sibling because the parents don’t have the ability to take paid leave and risk losing their jobs, that could have a devastating and cascading impact on the family unit.
A fine means an inability to pay rent which results in eviction or an inability to make a car payment so their vehicle is repossessed and they cannot work. When that happens, is that family well served? If either or both of those situations occur, then children can be uprooted from their homes and their schools and possibly end up entering the foster care system.
Is society well served by those outcomes?
While a strict interpretation of the law is often necessary to uphold the values of our community and protect the rights of our citizens, there are times when a deeper understanding of the situation may require a more nuanced approach to achieve just and appropriate results.
We need to see what strengths a family has and what resources are available to prevent setting into motion catastrophic consequences that can have a generational and societal effects. I will use all options available including court-ordered community services to ensure that justice is served.