Greater Athens September 2020 - Page 26

New Justice office marks new era BEFORE AFTER Story and photos by Rich Flowers This summer, construction on a new Justice of the Peace Precinct 4 courtroom and offices for the JP and constable has sped toward conclusion in LaRue. The move to LaRue, from Poynor, six miles away is a historic change for the county that has been several years in the making. “It’s a bigger and better situation,” Justice of the Peace Milton Adams said of the new structure. “As it is here, in Poynor, you just walk straight in and you’re in the same room. When you walk in the new building you have foyers and a long hallway.” Not only will Adams make the move, but Precinct 4 Constable John Floyd, who resides in Poynor. The JP court is the people’s court. For the past six years, Adams has represented the county’s southeast precinct from its longime location on Farm to Market Road 315 in Poynor. Before him, Kelly Harris served in the small building at the intersection to Lovers Lane. Harris followed Sue Tarrant, who held the office for more than 20 yers. East Texas Medical Center in Athens is located in Precinct 4 and accounts for a lot of Adams’ late night calls. Some of the JP duties include issuing arrest warrants, search warrants and conducting hearings on issues like drivers licenses and concealed handgun permits.The JP also considers mental health commitments, sets bail bonds, issues protective orders and peace bonds. He can also perform weddings.The cases might involve a small claims dispute, truancy, tickets, right of possession or many other issues. Adams comes to LaRue by a bit of a circuitious route. He had been Precinct 6 JP for several years, with an office in the basement of the courthouse. In 2011, in a cost-cutting move, the Henderson County Commissioners Court eliminated Precinct 6. Adams served the remainder of his term without a precinct. Then in 2014, Adams sought the Precinct 4 seat, vacated by Kelly Harris who ran for Henderson County Commissioner Precinct 4. Adams won by a wide margin. The Commissioners Court has looked at building a new JP and constable headquarters in Poynor, but the idea alway hit a snag. In 2009, Commissioners voted to contract with a firm from Jacksonville to work with the county on the building design. The county had planned to have the building plans drawn up in-house, but learned state law required hiring an architect, if the cost of the project is more than $100,000. Ultimately, the project was put on hold. The late Richard Sanders who was county judge in the 2010s said rebuilding in Poynor would be much more expensive than on the Larue property because of the topography at the location. The location in LaRue is located next door to the old Civic Center, just across from the post office. The Precinct 4 Commissioner’s headquarters is a short distance away. Building on the LaRue property also met with difficulty when the county had difficulty in getting clear title to the property. Henderson County commissioners voted to take ownership of a Larue property through a process called adverse possession. “We’ve used it and we’ve maintained it, and no one has paid property taxes on it,” County Attorney Clint Davis said. The Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code allows a person who possesses and uses another’s land without permission a way of gaining ownership. Texas places the burden of proof to establish a claim of adverse possession on the trespasser. The law shows the adverse possessor must enter the land without consent and stay openly, obviously and continuously in peaceable possession. An owner has up to two years after the adverse possession action to claim the property. With that hurdle cleared, construction began on the building. Most of the construction was done in early summer. Then, Adams said, they were waiting on the line to hook up the internet connection. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, Adams said they’ve found ways to make do in the tiny Poynor facility. “We’re doing personal space and allowing only one case in the building at the time,” Adams said. They’re obeying COVID-19 guidelines at Precinct 4. Movement once you’re in the courtroom is restricted.” Adams is looking foreward to having the extra space in the new building. “The courtroom is at least twice the size,” Adams said. “It’s not a super huge courtroom, but it’s not inadequate either.There’s plenty of room for people to keep social distance in there.” When the Precinct 4 officials get moved in, normal court dates will be Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. “But we’ll have it any day we have a necessity to have it,” Adams said. “Being a one clerk office, we need to keep her a work day free. There’s plenty of stuff for her to do without having court.” 26 Greater Athens Magazine | September 2020