The candidates running in the Aug. 7 Republican primary for Cole County associate circuit court judge both feel they will be firm but fair if elected to the post.
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 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.
At a Tuesday night candidate forum sponsored by the News Tribune at City Hall, both candidates said they were glad to see the state authorized a second associate circuit court for Cole County, starting in 2021. They feel this will help with the high caseload the current associate circuit court has to handle.
"Adult abuse cases have to be farmed out because of the caseload now," Anderson said. "This court handles 4,000 misdemeanors a year, plus you have all the arraignments and some preliminary hearings for felony cases to go through before they can go to a circuit court. As the judge, I would be working hard every day to manage the load."
Walker said, "At the municipal court, we handle 11,000 cases, and while the associate circuit cases are not exactly the same type, such as traffic tickets and infractions, they are similar to what I already deal with at municipal court.
"We've developed dockets to handle specific cases on certain days to help the caseload, and I think I would bring that experience with me, if elected. One of the things surrounding counties do with their associate courts that we don't is more family law. We currently don't handle that because of the caseload. We might be able to do this here with a second associate judge, which could free circuit judges for more complex litigation."
Anderson worked as the head of a methamphetamine strike force in northern Missouri while serving with the attorney general's office. He said it was there he got to see firsthand what an alternative court, such as drug court, can do.
"I learned in taking part that there are some alternatives that while being prosecutor I wasn't sure would work," he said. "I saw that it could be a positive in helping first-time or non-violent offenders."
Walker said alternative courts are valuable for most communities, but it doesn't work everywhere.
"The main value is you introduce people to services that could help them to break the root of crime," he said. "In municipal court, we've created a community partnership program to let people connect to volunteers if they're in need of education or a job."
Both candidates felt the sentences handed down in most Cole County cases are fair.
"Statistically, Cole County falls in the middle," Walker said. "They may not be as hard as some rural courts, and they are harsher than some courts in larger communities, statistically. You also want offenders to know that if they've been offered a chance to get treatment or services in lieu of jail time and they go out and commit a crime again, they 'll be punished, and I think we see that here. Although I don't currently deal with these cases in municipal court, if I'm elected and have cases where weapons are involved and you plead guilty, you're going to jail."
Anderson believes the distribution and trafficking of controlled substances is a major problem facing Cole County and the rest of the country. He said, if elected, he would see that those involved in these types of crimes were dealt with sternly.
"I had a conversation with a young lady from Russellville who said she worked at Prenger Center and her goal was to be an addiction counselor," Anderson said. "She told me she had seen kids as young as 10 on drugs. When they're being influenced by drugs at 10, you know it's a huge problem."
Anderson also believes a judge can have an impact on improving recidivism rates in prisons.
"First is justice, and then can come compassion," he said. "At the same time, as a judge, you're setting an example for the community. What you do with an individual case might reflect on what will happen in the next case like it. You can show you will not tolerate something. I had a case where a 5-year-old girl was abused by her father. The sentence that was recommended was 10 years, but I argued to the judge that the punishment should be more. The judge was angry, but eventually the father was sentenced to 26 years."
Walker feels it's his experience as an elected judge that gives him an advantage in this race.
"It's different sitting in the chair and listening to a case," he said. "You have to make it so that defendants know what's coming and hopefully they think about not wanting to come back to court. Municipal courts and associate circuits are where most people have a connection with the justice system. I know what this community's expectations are of a judge, and this would be a natural progression for me to continue serving as a judge."