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Problem Courts: What's Wrong

NCJ Number
Judges' Journal Volume: 30 Issue: 2 Dated: (Spring 1991) Pages: 22-25,68-69
F B Rodgers
Date Published
6 pages
The rural courts operated by justices of the peace, known as municipal courts, are currently structured in a way that often does a disservice to their communities and their judges, despite the competent efforts of many of these judges.
These courts do not require legal training in their judges, use part-time judges, have little connection to the State court system, and are seriously underfunded. Their cases generally consist of traffic offenses, dogs-at-large, and other minor offenses. The part-time judges often serve as lawyers also, thus promoting the appearance of conflict and unfairness. In addition, local governments have often informed the judges that their salaries depend on court revenues from fines or court costs. Moreover, interested parties often contact judges informally either before or after the proceedings. The court proceedings often take place in makeshift facilities and are often not transcribed. Security is virtually nonexistent. However, economic forces promote these courts' continued existence. A simple reform would be to assimilate these courts into the established court system. However, rural citizens will need to become aware of the unfair and bizarre experiences in these courtrooms before they will support a publicly-funded court system that is fair and open to all and that has an independent, fair, and competent judiciary.