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The Law is Black and White, but Life is Gray

COLLEGE STATION—From 1983 to 1987, author Mark Dunn worked as a court clerk for a justice of the peace in Travis County, Texas, where, he says, “I learned more about human nature . . . than I could have learned in any other job I might have taken up as a bushy-tailed kid from Tennessee.” Based on interviews with 200 justices of the peace from all parts of Texas, Texas People’s Court promises to take readers on a tour of what it means to be a Texas justice of the peace: an experience that is by turns hilarious, sobering, heart-wrenching, and, from one end to the other, fascinating.

Here in the Texas justice court, wrongs can be righted and lives changed in profound ways. A priceless family necklace might finally be restored to the rightful owner; an occupational driver’s license fortuitously granted. A death inquest may become an opportunity for family reflection and valediction, with the attending judge as sympathetic witness.

In each of its chapters, Texas People’s Court takes up a different aspect, duty, or area of thought related to the profession of justice of the peace taken from conversations with JPs throughout the state of Texas—from those who serve in its most populous municipalities to rural county JPs—putting a human face on the responsibilities, attitudes, and perspectives that motivate their judgments. The result is a thoroughly entertaining, sympathetic view of what Dunn calls “the day-to-day observation of human conflict in microcosm.”

MARK DUNN is a playwright, novelist, and freelance writer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His published works include the full-length plays Belles, Five TellersDancing in the Rain, and Judge and Jury, the novel Ella Minnow Pea—winner of the 2001 Borders Original Voices Award for Fiction—and Quizzing America: Television Game Shows and Popular Culture in the 1950s.



“One week I might have multiple dangerous dog case hearings, then the next week, quite a few eviction cases. You never know when the inquests are going to come. And I go to the jail seven days a week.”—Hon. Jeff Hightower, Bosque County

“Let me tell you when I feel bad. For the first six months of my job, I couldn’t eat lunch on eviction day because I had to put people out.”—Hon. Yvonne Michelle Williams, Travis County

“I had somebody sue Borden’s milk for $10,000 because they said they drank a glass of milk and it made their stomach hurt.”—Hon. Matt Beasley, Montgomery County

“I’d make a death call and then come home and couldn’t turn the light out because if I turned the light out and closed my eyes, that’s what I’d see.”—Hon. Frieda J. Pressler, Kendall County

“My family says to me, ‘You’re always thinking the worst things that can happen.’ And I say, ‘That’s because I see the worst things.’”—Hon. Sharon Fox, Brazoria County

“I prefer being a JP to being a deputy sheriff. The hours are better, and now I don’t have to fight with drunks in the middle of the parking lot.”—Hon. Trisher Ford, Tyler County


Texas People’s Court

The Fascinating World of the Justice of the Peace

By Mark Dunn

216 pp. Map. Index

College Station: Texas A&M University Press. $24.95 cloth

Publication Date: March 1, 2022

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