The candidates for Cole County Associate Circuit Judge feel their experience in working in all aspects of a court make them the most qualified for the job.
Use the video player below or access the City of Jefferson's YouTube channel to watch this forum.
Republican Cotton Walker, who won the two-way Republican race for associate circuit judge in the Cole County's August primary election, is facing Democrat Gaylin Rich Carver in the Nov. 6 general election. She ran unopposed in the August primary. Incumbent Judge Tom Sodergren is not seeking re-election.
The two took questions and discussed issues during a forum Wednesday night at Jefferson City Hall. The forum was sponsored by the News Tribune.
Walker has been serving as the elected municipal judge for Jefferson City since 2011. He has also served as municipal judge in Russellville.
Carver served as a clerk for Supreme Court Judge Mike Wolfe before working as an assistant prosecutor for then-Cole County Prosecutor Richard Callahan. She has been a partner at Carver & Michael law firm in Jefferson City since 2009.
The associate circuit court handles thousands of cases annually, both criminal and civil. Carver said her experience as a prosecutor and representing individuals in private practice gives her the ability needed to run an effective court.
"I learned the trade in front of Judge Sodergren," Carver said. "Being able to do jury trials for the state and with private clients, I understand the rules of evidence."
"Our caseload in municipal court is between 10,000-11,000 cases so I know the management of staffs and what a judge needs to do to get things done," Walker said.
When dealing with backlogs due to the high volume of cases, Carver said she possibly would continue what Sodergen is currently doing.
"The judge already has specific days for bad checks, traffic cases and bench trials and that can help to manage dockets," Carver said. "I could do trials in the associate circuit, if both parties agree to that, and with my family and juvenile law experience I could help take some of those burdens off the circuit courts."
"At law days in municipal court, I press for decisions to be made in a timely matter because it's in the interest of justice and if you have something like evidence spoiling that keeps the wheels of justice from moving," Walker said. "I take certain cases I'll need to spend more time on and make them specific dockets so I don't hold up bigger dockets."
If elected, both candidates said they would continue and expand what is offered in the county as far as alternative courts, which currently includes DWI, drug and veterans courts.
"You have to have the prosecutor and defense attorneys buying in to achieve the goals of the individuals and the community," Walker said. "In municipal courts we have a program similar to alternative courts where we have community partners, at no cost to the city and defendants, offer some of the same help the courts give."
"Our results from alternative courts in Cole County are phenomenal," Carver said. "In my private life, I've seen clients graduate and tell me these programs saved their life and they've not re-offended. The key is the process to determine whether or not a person could re-offend. Cost is also factor to whether or not programs can be done. Our county jail has more people dealing with mental heath issues and a mental health court is something I think we need."
Both candidates felt the problems brought about by illegal drugs is the biggest criminal issue currently facing Cole County.
"I think we need to look at treating addiction not so much as a criminal issue, but rather as a public health issue," Carver said. "We can use the justice system help people help themselves. We are incarcerating people just because they are drug addicts. Jails are there to keep people safe from those who are a danger to the public. We need to make sure those who can get treatment without being a threat to society get that."
Walker said: "Drugs are the biggest threat, because many times it leads to violent crimes. I intend to make it clear that if you're a violent crime offender and you use a weapon you will go to jail or prison. You have to be hard on weapon offenses and I believe that would have an effect especially on young defendants."