Joyce announces re-election bid

Patricia Joyce, Cole County’s presiding circuit judge, said Friday she’ll ask voters in November to give her another six-year term on the bench.

“I spent a long time looking at what I should do next with my life,” she said during an interview Friday afternoon. “And it seems like this is the place I should be.

“I think it’s a great job — it’s stressful at times, but it is a job that’s always interesting.”

Joyce will turn 59 in September and would be 65 at the end of the next term, if she’s re-elected.

After serving as an assistant prosecutor, Joyce first was elected as an associate circuit judge in 1994 and re-elected in 1998.

Lawmakers approved adding a third circuit judge’s post in Cole County, and cut the associate post she held, starting with the November 2002 election — and that year voters chose Joyce as that new circuit judge, then re-elected her in 2008.

Most lawsuits filed against state government must be filed in the Cole County circuit court, because Jefferson City is the seat of the state government.

“That’s why the 19th circuit has the most diverse practice,” Joyce said. “You can’t get bored with the cases that are brought before you.”

Even though other counties have larger populations, the one-county 19th Judicial Circuit is the state’s third busiest — behind only St. Louis and Jackson counties.

“You’re doing a wide variety of cases for a lot of people who come before you,” Joyce said last week — noting all three circuit judges — herself, Jon Beetem and Dan Green — “get some of the best issues in the state of Missouri to deal with — and they’re not just political issues.”

And, while there are criminal and civil cases in that mix as other counties experience, the civil suits involving state government operations sometimes present “some issue that no one else has ever had to deal with,” Joyce said.

A “downside” of the job goes with the U.S. legal system, she said, when people have to come to court “and they have to talk about their lives” on what may be, for many, “the worst days of their lives.”

The judge’s job includes determining winners and losers in each case.

“You’re constantly knowing you’re having to choose between two sides, or maybe sit somewhere in the middle, (of their) conflicts,” she explained. “That’s a downside, to have that much pressure and knowing that these people are in pain — and helping to figure out a way that you can move them forward, if possible.”

In her 19-year judicial career, Joyce noted, she also has helped start, and continues to hold, Cole County’s adult drug and DWI courts, where mostly first-time offenders are given an option of using mental health counselors and weekly court supervision rather than being sentenced to prison for criminal convictions.

“We’re going to be starting a Veteran’s Court,” she said. “They (all) save money and people’s lives.

“There is not a month that goes by, when I’m out in the community, when someone doesn’t come up to me and tell me that I saved their life (from addiction-caused problems).

“I feel humbled to be able to help them along that way, to be able to watch that recovery process, and see people reclaim their lives, their futures and their children’s lives.”

When candidate filings begin in a month, Joyce will list herself as a Democrat, because trial-level judicial elections in outstate Missouri are partisan contests.

But Joyce doesn’t think political labels make a difference on the bench.

“I wish we would let the people elect judges based on their experience, without have a (political party) letter after their name,” she said. “You don’t decide cases based on party affiliation, nor do you — when you take your oath of office — decide you’re going to make a decision (based) on the way someone looks, or how much money someone has, or their status in the community.

“You’re judging the facts of the case and on the evidence they present before you … on what the facts are and what the law is.”

Joyce is married to Dan Joyce, who also is a lawyer retired from state government and, currently, is Communications Director for the Catholic Church’s Diocese of Jefferson City.

They have five grown children and are member of St. Joseph Cathedral parish.

“I see the (judge’s) job as being able to serve the community,” Joyce said Friday, “to bring a lot of experience (and) to be able to help some.”

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