The candidates running in the Aug. 7 Republican primary for Cole County associate circuit judge both said they want to continue to move the division's heavy caseload through as quickly as possible.
Tim Anderson has 29 years of experience as an assistant attorney general for the state prosecuting various crimes such as murder, assault, sexual assault of children and various drug-related cases.
Cotton Walker has been serving as the elected municipal judge in Jefferson City since 2011. He was municipal judge in Russellville from 1994-2007.
Both men are running for the seat of current Associate Circuit Judge Tom Sodergren, who announced in January he would be retiring.
In his nearly 30 years on the bench, Sodergren said, he's heard in the neighborhood of 150,000 cases. In 2017 alone, he estimated he had 6,300 cases.
Cole County has such a heavy caseload because it is the only circuit in the state with one associate circuit, he said. The court deals with a variety of cases from felonies to landlord/tenant disputes to traffic offenses.
"Pushing the cases through is my first and foremost thought, if I'm elected, because justice delayed is justice denied," Anderson said. "You're always going to make somebody mad, but ideally, you make both parties a little bit mad if they don't get all they want. You have to be fair and impartial. You take each case as it comes and apply your legal experience."
Walker cited his experience with heavy caseloads, saying the Jefferson City municipal court is the busiest of the court divisions in the county with an even higher number of cases filed than the associate circuit.
"The associate division of our circuit court handles all criminal misdemeanors and infractions, the same type of criminal cases I have presided over in municipal court," he said. "I've also appeared many times in associate circuit as a lawyer and saw how Judge Sodergren managed that caseload, so it's not daunting to me to see a long docket of cases."
Walker believes he's a better judge now thanks to his years of experience at the municipal level.
"You learn how to handle dockets, manage your court staff and try to find things to benefit the public good," he said. "You want to make sure that the right of those charged is upheld, making sure they have a speedy trial and they have adequate representation. I also believe we need to make sure if a person is indigent they aren't punished in a way different from someone who can afford proper legal representation."
While he hasn't served as a judge, Anderson said his years of sorting through the "ups and downs" of cases as an attorney is much like what a judge does when listening to a case in his court.
"You look to see if you have enough evidence to establish probable cause, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this person has committed a crime," he said. "Sometimes you come to the conclusion you don't have enough evidence. The best judges I've seen are the ones who handle attorneys who can be contentious, calm things down and keep it fair, yet firm, in their courts. They make their ruling and then move on, and I think that's very important."
Walker said the position would be an extension of what he has been practicing during his time as a judge and attorney, which he calls "justice for real people in our community."
"I do pay attention to how old a case is, and I move them," he said. "I'm mindful of this because that benefits the defendant and the people, whether that be the city or county, because you have swift justice — and that's one of the main jobs of being a judge."
Anderson believes his experience working with a variety of drug-related crimes will help, as he believes he'll deal with many of those if elected associate circuit judge.
"I spent years working on methamphetamine-related cases, and now it appears that's going to be superseded by opioid abuse," he said. "Those cases tear at the very fabric of our society. You have people who use these drugs, oftentimes starting them when they are prescribed for an injury, but then they don't stop using them and it gets into a habit. Oftentimes a person, to get the money to purchase the drugs, they'll steal or commit another crime."
Walker said one of the most common questions he's been asked is what he would change or keep the same, if elected.
"I'm not going to re-invent the wheel if it's working because Judge Sodergren has done a great job," he said.
"Another topic people bring up is decisions on punishment," Walker continued. "The judge does have some power to approve or reject when there is a plea agreement involved. People have come to me and said that in sentencing after a plea or a trial they feel some people get off too easy, and that is something I am mindful about. I don't handle offenses where weapons are involved in municipal court, but if I'm elected to the associate circuit, I can assure you they will be punished harshly."
Anderson believes a large part of being a judge is having compassion when dealing with people in court.
"Being able to display compassion to those who are having a difficult time, yet at the same time administering justice, is what I want to do," he said. "First comes justice. None of us is warranted mercy. You take all the factors going on in a person's life, and as the facts are presented to you, a judge, just like any good juror, would use their common sense and weigh these factors."
The winner of the Republican primary will face presumed Democratic nominee Gaylin Rich Carver in the November general election.