JP’s residency causes confusion

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by T.J. Aulds / The Daily News

khou.com

Posted on February 25, 2010 at 9:07 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 25 at 9:07 AM

Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Sonny James said a campaign staffer made an error when she wrote on a Daily News election questionnaire that the judge lives in La Marque, when he actually resides in League City.

The questionnaire was published in Wednesday’s editions of the paper and is available online.

Questions about James’ residency are nothing new. The justice of the peace, whose precinct includes La Marque and West Texas City, lists on county tax records he lives in Texas City.

On the paperwork he filed to run for re-election, however, James lists his League City address as his primary residence, Galveston County Democratic Party Chairman Lloyd Criss said. James faces La Marque Mayor Pro Tem Keith Bell in the party primary for justice of the peace.

James has been the Precinct 3 justice of the peace since 1994. There is no Republican in the race, so the winner of the primary likely will be elected to that office. Early voting in the primary continues through Friday, while election day is Tuesday.

While most elected offices require the elected official live within the district or precinct that office serves, justices of the peace are exempt from such restrictions.

Texas election law states justice of the peace candidates must reside in the state for a year and within their district for six months before filing for office.

The law doesn’t require a justice of the peace to remain in the district once elected.

In 1977, Texas Attorney General John L. Hill issued the opinion that justices of the peace can move from their districts without vacating their offices.

Furthermore, the law exempts justice of the peace incumbents from the residency requirement, if they’ve held the position for 10 years or longer, County Attorney Harvey Bazaman said in an interview about James’ residency in 2008.

James has lived in League City for about four years and said he moved into a new house about three months ago. Neither of the addresses he lives at, though, lists him as the property owner, according to county tax records.

Even though he lives in League City, James claims a homestead exemption on the house in Texas City. He said he leases the property with plans on moving back to the house when he retires.

Officials with the Galveston Central Appraisal District said in order for someone to claim a homestead exemption, he or she must own the house and it must be the primary residence on Jan. 1. It does not require a length of residency, officials said.

The appraisal district, however, does require a property owner to provide a driver’s license when he or she files for a homestead exemption.

Once that document is filed however, the homestead exemption stays unless the homeowner asks for it to change or the district has information that the person does not live at that residence.

Chief Appraiser Ken Wright, can send a letter to a property owner requesting that he or she provide proof that the house is the primary residence.

This story was brought to you thanks to khou.com's partnership with The Galveston County Daily News.
 
 

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