Forms part of the repository's County Clerk's Office subgroup. Docket books of information concerning cases brought before many but not all justices of the peace of Monmouth County, N.J., arranged alphabetically by last name of the justice, providing a historical record of the Monmouth County Court for the Trial of Small Causes, the lowest level civil court. A small percentage of the books pertain to Justice of the Peace Criminal Court.
Justices of the peace represented include, but are not limited to, Leonard Arrowsmith (8v., 1915-1926), John A. Borden (15v, 1888-1924), Eugene Britton (8 v., 1883-1897), Martin Ferris (18 v., 1901-1931), Isaac Johnston (8 v., 1912-1923), J.C. Lawrence (7 v., 1865-1891), James Sickles (6 v., 1891-1913), Theodore Sniffen (5 v., 1896-1915), and David Warner (6 v., 1881-1898).
Records transferred by Jane G. Clayton, Monmouth County Clerk to County of Monmouth, Archives and Records Center. Finding aid and indexes in the repository. The repository also has microfilm of the collection for public use.
The office of Justice of the Peace has a long history within the judicial system. Under the oldest English laws, the Justice of the Peace was regarded as a "protector of the King's or Queen's peace." Originally, the duties of the office involved settling matters of minor civil and criminal offenses. The jurisdiction of the Justice of the Peace changed very little over hundreds of years.
The Royal Majesties realized, very early, that the only way to keep England's interests safe in the colonies would be through the courts and the Judges and Justices who presided over them. Through the appointments of England's loyal servants to the prestigious, high court positions, the Crown would be assured that disruptions and disturbances by the colonists would be dealt with appropriately. The Royal Governors were given the power and authority to appoint and depose all court officials.
The protection of England's interests began at the town level in the Court of Small Causes presided over by a Justice, whose length of term was "for good behaviour" which, in most cases, meant indefinitely.
Both before and after the Revolution, the Justice of the Peace was responsible to hear, try to determine all cases brought before him, without a jury. Cases brought before Small Causes included landlord-tenant disputes and cases of debt involving amount under 40 shillings. At various times, after the Revolution, acts of legislation were passed gradually raising the amounts from $60 to $200.
Also included on a Justice's calendar of cases might be neighborly disputes or the sale of intoxicating liquor on the Sabbath. Anyone cursing or swearing in public places might also be brought before Small Causes and, if found guilty, assessed court costs and a fee for poor behavior. However, the most well known duty of the Justice of the Peace was to perform marriages.
Although the State Constitution of 1776 stated that, temporarily, the common law of England would remain in force, there were a few changes made to the legal system, especially to the office of the Justice of the Peace. Through the 1776 Constitution, the Council and General Assembly no longer appointed by the Royal Governors, but Justices by joint selection and appointment, with the approval or commission by the Governor. The term of office was limited to five years.
The next major change occurred under the 1844 Constitution. While the Constitution did not change the jurisdiction of the Justices, it did allow, for the first time, their election by the people. According to the Constitution, "two, and not more than five, justices of the peace in each of the townships throughout the State," could be elected. The population of the city or township determined the number elected. Justices were required to record in their docket books all cases brought to their court. By law, their docket books could not be destroyed. The law also stated that the books could be used as evidence in all courts of law in the State, even after the Justice's death, impeachment or resignation.
The Justices of the Peace may not have been as revered as the illustrious Supreme Court Judges, but they were an important part of the legal process.
II. SCOPE AND CONTENT
This record series consists of 210 docket books of information concerning cases brought
before Justices of the Peace in Monmouth County. Each volume consists of a kind of a diary kept by the Justice in which he noted events pertaining to the case, for example, the issuance of a summons, the filing of court papers, the appearance and testimony at the trial, and the decision. These volumes thus constitute a historical record for the Court of Small Causes for the Justices and years available. They are not a complete record for the courts of Small Causes, as not all justices are represented in the record series.
The Justice of the Peace Docket Books are arranged alphabetically by the last name of the Justice. Most Justices recorded cases chronologically within their books, starting a new page for each case and adding notes to the same page as the case unfolded. Some of the Justices maintained indexes by plaintiff and defendant in the front of their books, providing page references. A few Justices used alphabetically arranged books or maintained separate books for specialized purposes, such as civil cases, criminal cases, and marriages.
The time span covered by the volumes varies considerably, depending on such factors as the size of the volume, case load, system of recording cases, and length of service by the Justice.
Although most cover less than a ten-year span, there are a number covering lengthier periods as long as thirty-six years.
The Docket books are available for use on microfilm. Two indexes to the books are
available: 1) alphabetical by name of the Justice of the Peace; and 2) alphabetical by town and chronological within town. Both indexes provide the following information concerning the books:
NAME name of the Justice of the Peace
TOWN location of Justices Court
BEGINNING DATE beginning date of volume
ENDING DATE ending date of the volume
MFILM microfilm roll number
Special notes concerning some of the volumes are also provided. Cases within the volumes have not been indexed except within the books as noted above in the Scope and Content section.
The Monmouth County Archives also holds loose papers for Justices of the Peace, including justices for which no docket books are available. See also individual guide to the records of Justice of the Peace Joseph H. Schooley of Allentown.
March 13, 2001; rev. Nov. 23, 2011
Justice of the Peace Books