Matt Nelson, Justice of the Peace Candidate, Vows to Take 25-Percent Salary Cut if Elected

Matt Nelson's slashing prices on new Justices of the Peace!

That's right, for a limited-time only, Tempe and Chandler voters can elect a new JP for 25-percent off the current price.

Maybe. County officials say they aren't sure taking a pay cut is legal; Nelson admits he didn't research that before he made the offer.

Nelson is one of four Republicans running for the University Lakes JP position in the August 26 primary. He vows to be one heck of a bargain for voters if they put him in office.

See also: -John Ore, Presiding Justice of the Peace for Maricopa County, to Retire

Nelson's "promise," according to a mailer sent recently to voters: "Government costs have risen too much. I will take a 25% salary reduction for my entire term when elected."

Justices of the Peace in Maricopa County currently earn $101,500.

Under state law, as Nelson himself mentions in a 2013 blog post, the only requirement for JP "is to be 18 and breathing." But Nelson's qualifications include his law degree, while his GOP opponents have never even attended law school, he claims. Nelson's a former prosecutor for the city of Phoenix who's worked in private practice since 2010.

He's done well for himself over the years -- in other areas of life, if not in his law practice, he tells New Times. A former investigator for the Chicago Department of Labor, Nelson decided "late in life" to move someplace warmer and go to law school. Since obtaining his law degree from Arizona State University, all of his work has been pro bono, he says. He's worked on "Project Salute," for example, a free legal-help program for veterans.

County records show he's filed more than twice as many signatures as his competitors for the campaign. If he survives the primary, he'll face off in the November 4 general election against Democrat Tyler Kissell. The current JP, former lawmaker Meg Burton-Cahill, isn't on this year's list of candidates.

There's just one problem with Nelson's campaign promise to get paid less, however: Maricopa County officials don't know if he can legally take a smaller paycheck.

No one at the Maricopa County Justice Courts administration offices in Phoenix could recall a similar situation, says Sheryl Rabin, spokeswoman and legislative analyst for the courts.

"If an elected Justice of the Peace asks not to accept the full salary of the position, legal research would be required to determine any statutory or other restrictions that could possibly impact whether an elected official can legally refuse payment of the entire earned salary," she says.

Told that, Nelson wasn't sure what he'd do if it turns out he's not able to take a self-imposed pay cut.

Maybe he'll simply refuse to fill out payroll paperwork for his first year, he says. But he didn't make the promise in order to give administrators "headaches." If he has to take the full salary, he adds, he'll likely give 25 percent of it to charity.

He could consider donating it to a state lawmaker, since legislators make only $24,000 a year -- less than Nelson wants to give away.

Editor's Note: This post has been edited from its original version.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern