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Judge’s son followed accounting path — into courthouse job

John Riley is the Cole County Circuit Court administrator.

John Riley is the Cole County Circuit Court administrator.

John Riley remembers spending time in Cole County’s courthouse as a boy.

He’s the youngest son of the late James T. Riley, longtime Cole County prosecutor and circuit judge.

Since May, Riley has been the circuit court’s administrator, assisting the judges, circuit clerk and others in running the four courts as smoothly as possible.

“I used to joke when I took this job, that I have four bosses and no employees,” Riley said last week. “Technically, I don’t work over anybody — I really just work with everybody around here.

“I’m really kind of a facilitator.”

He works with Circuit Clerk Dawnel Davidson in getting jury pools ready before a trial, and then in making sure jurors are comfortable during a trial.

“I really care about the jury room — do they have enough water (and) soda? Are they comfortable?” Riley said. “Is it cool enough or warm enough in there?”

Today’s start of the David Hosier murder trial brings the first sequestered jury Cole County’s had in around two decades.

So, Riley said, it’s “new territory” for almost everyone in the courthouse.

“I’m helping manage food, rooms (at the hotel),” he said, in addition to making things “comfortable” while the jurors are in the courthouse.

Occasionally — twice in the five months he’s been on the job — there are two jury trials being held at the same time, Riley said, “but we only have one jury room. ... So, that’s an organizational challenge, because you have to keep the juries separate.

“You can’t have them mingle and get things confused as to what they’re doing.”

Riley said that circumstance may be the most troublesome part of his job — he has to work with the marshals and judges to make sure the two trials don’t take breaks at the same time, so the jurors won’t be mixed together.

And he helps make sure that visiting judges have what they need when called in to replace one of the local judges in a case.

Before coming to the Cole County court administrator’s job in May, Riley spent a dozen years as an accountant in the Office of State Courts Administrator, which manages all state courts under the Supreme Court’s direction.

But working with people was one of the new job’s attractions.

“I’ve been a CPA for 20 years or so, and been an auditor and did all the accounting over at OSCA,” Riley said, “and I thought, ‘I like working with people.’

“When this job came open, I knew it wasn’t really a whole lot of accounting other than some budget (work), so I thought, ‘I’d really like to give this a shot.’”

Because Jefferson City also is Missouri’s capital, the Cole County circuit courts are the third busiest circuit in the state, behind only St. Louis and Jackson counties.

“The sheer number of cases actually surprised me,” Riley explained. “Our caseload is quit a bit different from what somebody else in our population would be.

“We handle all Administrative Hearing appeals, anything that happens at the state pen, the PSC (and) any sort of ballot issues will all come through here, where they would never come through any other place in the state.”

Handling that volume falls largely on the judges and court reporters, and on the circuit clerk’s staff, which prepares and keeps the case files for both civil and criminal cases.

Although others have the main responsibilities, Riley said, “I’m always putting out fires, it seems like. I don’t stop too often during the day — and I’m going up and down those stairs about six or seven times a day.”

The easiest part of his job is getting along with the people in the courthouse.

“Everybody pitches in,” he said. “This job could really be bad if you couldn’t get these people together.”

When he’s not at work, Riley is part of the Knights of Columbus’ Honor Guard, serving at various functions like first communions and funerals.

And he and his wife bought a farm near Eldon.

“The farm’s kind of like this job — the learning curve is pretty steep,” he said. “I’ve got corn in. ... The hay’s been cut, baled and stacked up.

“We’re planning on putting in a small vineyard, so we’ll gear up to put that in in late-February or early March.”

Riley said he’s not looking for fame or a place to launch a political career.

“If people don’t notice anything (in the courthouse), I think I’ve done my job,” he said. “This job and my wife and my kids — that’s about it” to fulfill his life.

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