Union County Justices of the Peace, 1820-1957
(Updated: July 5, 2015)
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Justice of the Peace Commissions (1820-1957)
These records contain a listing of justices of the peace showing justice of the peace, township, date elected, date of commission, date sworn into office, expiration of term, and commission record.
The office of justice of the peace was first created in 1788 in the Northwest Territory. These justices of the peace operated under the guise of the Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace. They had jurisdiction over all crimes and misdemeanors where the punishment did not extend to capital punishment, or imprisonment for more than a year, or forfeiture of property to the territorial government. The justices were required to hold court, composed of not less than three nor more than five justices, four times a year. Justices out of court session could hear cases regarding common law, petty crimes and misdemeanors and render judgments in those cases. In 1790, the justices were granted executive authority in the governing of the counties of the territory. They operated as the functional equivalent as county commissioners during this time period of territorial status. So prominent was the position, that the right to appeal a justice’s decision were not allowed until 1795. The creation of the Territorial Assembly in 1798 began the curtailment of the justice of the peace’s power.
Ohio statehood brought the continuation of the office of justice of the peace in a reduced capacity. The Ohio constitution’s judiciary article specified that, a competent number of Justices of the Peace shall be elected by the qualified electors in each township in the several counties and shall continue in office three years, whose powers and duties shall, from time to time, be regulated and defined by law.
The Ohio General Assembly completely revised the statues relating to justices of the peace on February 18, 1809. Criminal jurisdiction was extended to be co-extensive with the boundaries of the county, while civil jurisdiction was confined to the township were the justice was elected.
In criminal matters the justice of peace was “a conservator of the peace” and had jurisdiction over “all criminal matters only upon affidavit or complaint filed” including all felonies and misdemeanors. They were limited in regards to what specific cases they could hear and adjudge themselves, as they could not try cases that resulted in imprisonment. Cases of that nature and felony jurisdiction were reserved for the common pleas court, but justices could arrest those perpetrators and issue recognizance bonds for them to appear in court at the proper time. With the evolution of the common pleas court and the position of sheriff this role in regards to matters extending beyond the justice’s original jurisdiction became less and less common.
In civil issues the justice peace had original jurisdiction in cases “not exceeding one hundred dollars, and concurrent jurisdiction with the court of common pleas” in cases “over one hundred and not exceeding three hundred dollars.” A litigant in a civil action always had to right to appeal a decision of the justice of the peace to the common pleas court. Along with this power a justice could administer oaths, issue subpoenas and solemnize marriages among a host of other actions.
The number of justices of peace per township was decided by the common pleas court upon the creation of the township. The probate court was granted authority to either increase or decrease the number of justices of the peace per township upon their own discretion. Vacancies in the office were filled by appointment of the township trustees. Justices were required to file a bond and take an oath upon either their election or appointment. They then received a commission from the governor. The justice was then required to take and subscribe the oath of office before the clerk of the court of common pleas, or before a justice of the peace of his county…Such justice of the peace within ten days, shall transmit such oath to the clerk of the court.
This made their appointment or election official. This requirement was enacted on February 2, 1810, and stayed as part of the statutes relating to justices of the peace, since that time.
On May 29, 1957, the Ohio legislature passed an act creating county courts where “the territorial jurisdiction of a municipal court…is not co-extensive with the boundaries of the county”. The jurisdiction of the new court was described as being all cases related to “motor vehicle violations, other misdemeanors and in all other actions in which a justice of the peace court has jurisdiction.” The law in effect abolished the justice of the peace position effective January 1, 1958. In Union County the county court operated from 1958 until 1964 when it became the Marysville Municipal Court.