I am a candidate for the office of justice of the peace in Mesquite and have found, while talking with residents of the city, that most don't know much about what this judgeship entails.
What does a justice of the peace do? In Nevada, the justice (or county) court is the lowest level court of the state court system. It is a court of limited jurisdiction in that misdemeanors (violations of state statutes including traffic offenses that occur on state and county roads) on the criminal side (the people of the state vs. the alleged violator) and civil matters (i.e. lawsuits between individuals) (1) where claims for monetary damages are limited to $10,000 and (2) where some transactions are delineated by statute, such as landlord/tenant laws, are tried.
Alleged perpetrators of gross misdemeanors and felonies occurring within Mesquite face arraignment in the justice court to ascertain where there is sufficient evidence to bind them over for trial, but their trials are held in the district court (second tier of the state court system along with specialized family courts that handle divorces, custody issues, adoptions, juvenile matters, etc.) in Las Vegas. Anything outside the above delineated jurisdiction for the justice court is not tried locally.
In addition to the above types of cases tried in the justice court, the justice of the peace can issue: (1) warrants (must know what is required for probable cause); (2) restraining or protective orders (providing due process requirements are met); (3) eviction notices (due process required here, as well) ; and (4) she can marry people.
The above due process requirements and other civil rights protections are embodied in the United States (and to a large extent Nevada's) Constitution and are delineated by centuries of legal analysis in case law that is not written
into the Nevada code anymore than are most issues involving civil law (again centuries old and embodied by case law). In other words, merely being able to read the Nevada statutes is not sufficient for effectively handling a majority of the issues before the justice court, especially concerning those of civil law and the constitutional protections, by law, afforded every person appearing before any judge in a United States courtroom.
The third tier of the Nevada judicial system is Nevada's Supreme Court which does not try cases but serves as an appellate court (hears appeals) for decisions of the second-tier courts. If some part of a lower court decision is found to be defective and has materially effected the outcome of the case, this court will send it back to the court from which is was appealed to correct that defect (sometimes even retrying the case).
Currently, judges of the entire state court system in Nevada are elected. Mesquite's municipal court judge, on the other hand, serves at the city council's pleasure and is appointed by that body. After Judge Dodd retires from both courts at the end of the year, the city council has resolved that its next municipal court judge must have a law degree (but that does not mean that it cannot reverse itself down the road).
Because Mesquite's population is less than 100,000, state statutes only require its justice of the peace to be a high school graduate, a hold-over from Nevada's frontier days when there were no legally-trained individuals in many communities to fill these positions.
Finally, justice courts like Mesquite's, are not courts of record for obvious reasons. Therefore, anyone wishing to appeal a decision from one of these courts to the second-tier district court does so de novo (in other words begins the proceedings anew). This is not true of justice courts of Nevada with qualified judges.
Karen Beausoleil, J. D & Ed. D