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Burnett and Egan debate

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MEGAN GRAY

The Ellis County Press

MIDLOTHIAN – Steve Burnett, Midlothian attorney, and Steve Egan, Midlothian police officer, are in a face-off for Justice of the Peace Pct. 4.

Early voting will take place at the Ellis County Elections/ Voter Registration Office located at 106 Monroe Street in Waxahachie on April 5-9 from 7 a.m.-7 p.m with Election day Tuesday, April 13.

A newly elected or appointed justice of the peace must attend 80 hours of training during the first year administered by the Texas Justice Court Training Center and funded by a grant awarded from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

These 80 hours of education are separated into three seminars of two 20-hour schools and one 40-hour school.

After the first year in office, justices of the peace must attend a 20-hour school every year. The education covers all areas of the justice of the peace office.

After each legislative session, additional training is offered to keep the judges informed of any and all changes affecting their courts.

The justice court has jurisdiction over civil, small claims, and eviction suits up to $ 10,000 exclusive of interest.

Because the justice court is not a court of record, any appeal to county court is trial de novo, or a new trial.

Justice of the Peace typically earn $60,030 a year in the county according to County Auditor Mike Navarro.

*Same questions were given to each candidate

Steve Burnett

1. Why are you running?

I am running for Justice of the Peace first because I want to serve my fellow residents. In a rewarding legal career, I have enjoyed meeting new challenges and demonstrated my competency to perform the duties. I have a degree in law and have been licensed by the State of Texas since 1978. I have always served the communities in which I have lived. This is an opportunity to serve that fits my education and experience. Finally, the time is right in my life. Both of my children are grown so I have the time to devote to this position.

2. Does the background of an attorney help your job as a JP?

Bringing legal training to this bench would be an additional benefit to the residents of Ellis County, but the main asset of any justice of the peace is the ability to give each side a fair hearing and to refrain from prejudging either side or their position. To become an attorney, one must study the law for three years in law school and then pass a test to demonstrate competency in the law. As this court will rule on many of the same legal conflicts that the district or county courts face, having a person with that training and certified accountability helps people know that that ruling in a particular case reflects the law rather than a judge’s bias or mistaken conception of legal principles. In a court having jurisdiction over cases involving disputes up to $10,000, most people cannot afford a mistaken judgment and as an attorney licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas, I can ensure they get the right and just result each time. Additionally, due to my experience representing parties in criminal proceedings, I know what it is like to sit in court hoping to persuade a judge that the officer who wrote the ticket was mistaken. No witness is always right. Evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the presumption of innocence are vital concepts to be honored. The laws that govern the application of these rights, as well as the underlying Constitutional history and the intent of our Founding Fathers are essential to know. The study of law provides me with that knowledge.

2b. There have been concerns that this may be a conflict. How do you feel about this?

Many of our Founders were attorneys – thirty-five of the fifty-five delegates to the Constitution Convention were trained in the law. While some may express concerns about a dominance of attorneys in the executive or legislative branches of government that does not appear to hold true in the judiciary. Like anyone else, I am a citizen, a father, a husband and any number of things, before I am a lawyer. In so much as I bring my personal experiences to the court whether it would be serving on a jury or as your justice of the peace, I have to set my own experiences and potential prejudices aside in order to rule based on the facts presented and the law applicable to the matter at hand. I have studied the law intensely for three years and then practiced law for 31 years. The fact that I am an attorney that wants to be a justice of the peace can only be beneficial. In the "people’s court" (and all courts should be the people’s court) the people deserve the best decision. I can and will deliver that to the people.

3. What are the most important issues to you on how to obtain and maintain an effective JP office?

As a small businessman, I understand the realities of office administration and efficient and cost-effective operation. If a did not, I would not have stayed in business and been able to support my family for thirty-one years. I will bring that practical, hands-on experience of managing cases in a timely, yet competent manner to this position.

4. Would this be your full-time job?

Yes. When elected I will close my law office and devote all of my efforts to the office of Justice of the Peace and the citizens of Ellis County.

5. Tell us a little about yourself.

I was raised in the country in west Texas. There I participated in theater, boy scouts and debate. I played tennis through high school and college. We owned three horses, so I learned to ride and care for horses at an early age. While in college I worked for the school to pay for some of my expenses. I have served as a coach for little league and helped in many school activities for my children and mentored others. I have served our church and several charitable groups in leadership positions.

6. What qualities do you feel you have that better qualify you for the job than your opponent?

I will not "legislate from the bench". I know that because I know what the law requires. I promise that I will follow the law, even if I do not agree with it. To do otherwise means that I am deciding what the law should be. Some say that "common sense" alone is enough. To quote Will Rogers "common sense ain’t so common." One person’s "common sense" comment may be another person’s irrational response. We have to recognize that the common law is derived from the decisions made in the past on similar facts and by the common consensus of elected legislators passing statutory laws. Thus, it can best be said that "common sense" is applied in court decisions from the JP to the County and District courts everyday, rather than the judgment of a single man or woman. No judge should leave common sense at the door of the courthouse, especially, a judge who is making a decision that will make a significant impact on a person’s life. A judge who carries the knowledge of the law, produced by common experience and consensus, will produce the best legal decision. I have demonstrated that I have the best knowledge of the law. This is the same as asking your doctor to use common sense to cure your illness without the benefit of attending medical school. Using only common sense, a person could mistake a sore throat for a cold instead of cancer. Common sense tells us that the better informed the judge is, the better the decision. Allowing a person to act as a judge based on his or her own sense of what it is "common sense" without reference to higher authority is exactly the situation that our system based on the rule of law rather than men should prevent.

Steve Egan

1)  The most important aspect I see for obtaining the Office of Justice of the Peace in Precinct 4 is to get the voters to polls to vote either early April 5-9 at the Ellis County Elections Admin office on Monroe St. or to go to their polling places on April 13.  To maintain the Office of Justice of the Peace Precinct 4 I will keep the staff that employed there, I will work the court docket in a timely manner and I will be available to the citizens of Ellis County when I am not holding court, either by telephone or in person.

2) This will be my "only" job. It is a full time job.  I will not have any other business or volunteer interests that interfere with the position of Justice of the Peace.

3) I have worked with the citizens of Midlothian for almost 30 years.  During this time I have been on call 24-7.  I have worked in numerous crime scenes, have assisted the JP’s at the crime scenes, and I know to touch only the things at a scene that have to be touched to accomplish the job.  Through the years I have learned how to work with people and I treat all the citizens that I deal with with the respect that they deserve.  I am honest, fair, trustworthy, and respected in my career and personal life and I will bring those qualities to the Justice Court.

4) I believe that being a police officer for all these years makes me a better candidate for the position of Justice of the Peace for a number of reasons.  The Justice Court is the peoples court.  It is mostly informal and the people who come to the court do not need an attorney to represent them.  The Justice Court is also a court of common sense and  I have been blessed with common sense.  The Justice of the Peace must be able to talk to people on a level that they understand that is what a police officer does.  The people who come to Justice Court are wanting a decision in a timely manner.  As a police officer I am required to read people and make decisions in a split second.  Some of the decisions I have made on the streets have dealt with life and death, almost all the decisions I make deal with a persons rights and their freedom.  As a police officer I do not let my emotions interfere with the decisions I make.  That is why I feel that having been a police officer for almost 30 years makes me the better person for the position of Justice of the Peace Precinct 4.


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