The candidates for Cole County Prosecuting attorney believe while their backgrounds are different, they would be an effective prosecutor if elected to the office.
Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Forum
Use the video player below or access the City of Jefferson's YouTube channel to watch this forum.
Locke Thompson defeated incumbent Mark Richardson in Cole County's August primary election for the Republican nomination for prosecuting attorney.
Thompson faces Democratic candidate Deirdre "DK" Hirner in the Nov. 6 general election. She was unopposed in Cole County's August primary election.
Richardson, who has held the position for 12 years, will remain in the office until January, when a new prosecutor will be sworn in.
Thompson worked as an assistant prosecutor in Jasper County from 2016-17, before returning to his hometown of Jefferson City to work in the special prosecutions unit of the Missouri attorney general's office. He left that position in early March to campaign for Cole County prosecuting attorney.
Hirner is an attorney employed by the American Wind Energy Association, covering the Midwestern and Plains States, where she works with state and regional partner associations to promote legislation and regulation related to the wind industry.
Hirner has been a senior staff member in the offices of Missouri Govs. Mel Carnahan and Bob Holden.
During a candidate forum Wednesday night at Jefferson City Hall, sponsored by the News Tribune, Hirner and Thompson were asked about whether or not their lack of extensive courtroom experience should be a concern for voters.
"I am young, but all my career I've been a prosecutor," Thompson said. "I know I've only been involved in eight jury trials, but that doesn't mean you aren't prosecuting during all the other cases I've been involved with."
"While I have not prosecuted criminal cases, I don't think that should concern citizens because the prosecutors office is not one person," Hirner said. "There are 22 people in that office and based on my managerial experience I can work to get the right people to get things done."
On the issue of putting a staff together, Thompson said he believed he would have to bring in some people based on current staff already departing, but he said he would try to minimize turnover.
"If elected, I'm looking at probably six months to a year where I will have to go in to court regularly, but one attorney can't handle the whole caseload," Thompson said. "Whoever we have, I want to sit down and figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are so we can have an effective office.
"With my 25-30 years managerial experience, I feel I could get the people matched to their skill levels," Hirner said. "I eventually plan to be in the courtroom, but want to be thoroughly prepared before I do that."
On how their approach to handling cases would differ compared to what is currently being done in the prosecutor's office, Hirner said she would be more supportive of alternative courts, which in Cole County includes DWI, drug and veterans courts.
"These enable those who are involved in non-violent crimes to return to the community and still contribute," Hirner said. "Our current prosecutor hasn't taken advantage of these or explored them as much as possible. My office also would be more open and transparent. We would work with community leaders on issues and be more inclusive."
"We don't have a mental health court here, and with 80 percent of drug users having mental health issues, we need that court," Thompson said. "This could go a long way to reducing our populations in prisons and county jails. The current office is not making the best charging decisions, undercharging or overcharging. We need to make sure we're going through cases carefully and getting it right the first time and meeting the burden of proof."
On the issue of the biggest criminal problem currently facing Cole County, Hirner felt there were two areas.
"One is drug trafficking, because it's not isolated and we need to be honest with citizens that it's all across the county," she said. "Second is domestic violence. We're not paying enough attention to these instances and properly prosecuting those crimes."
Thompson said: "I agree that illegal drug activity is our biggest problem and while I will crack down on dealers who commit violent crimes related to drug trafficking, we need to better utilize treatment courts. Those don't take target dealers. It's for those who are stealing to feed their habit."