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Cole County judge candidates answer community members' questions

by Jeff Haldiman | July 19, 2020 at 5:05 a.m. | Updated July 19, 2020 at 1:22 p.m.

The News Tribune asked the candidates in the Aug. 4 primary election for Cole County Division 2 circuit judge, Division 3 circuit judge and Division 5 associate circuit judge to answer the following questions submitted by readers.

Republican candidates for Division 2 circuit judge are David Bandre and incumbent Dan Green. There are no Democratic candidates for the position.

Republican candidates for Division 3 circuit judge are Cotton Walker and Mark Richardson. There are no Democratic candidates for the position.

Republican candidates for Division 5 associate circuit judge are Brian Stumpe, Todd Smith, Matt Willis and Tim Anderson. The winner of the Republican primary will face uncontested Democratic candidate Scott Evans in the November general election.

What are your views regarding alternative sentences and/or diversion programs for non-violent offenders?

Circuit Judge Division 2

David Bandre: "Diversion programs in the criminal justice system are a form of sentence in which the criminal offender joins a rehabilitation program, intended to remedy the behavior leading to the original arrest and allow the offender to avoid conviction. My goal is to have Division 2 more involved in the continued development of these alternative courts. Incarceration for non-violent offenders should be reserved for those who are persistent offenders, and for whom no other methods of modifying behaviors has worked. If we can assist by addressing the mental health or addiction issues that have led to criminal behavior, the Court can improve both the individual defendant, and the overall health of the county.

"Improvements can be made by ensuring that the offenders are more cognizant of the consequences of failing the diversion programs, and by ensuring that those consequences are followed though upon. The belief that 'another chance' will be given leads to much of the recidivism that exists in these programs. The lack of funding available to the Cole County courts cuts down on options available to the treatment court judges, so every judge in the circuit needs to take a vested role in these programs so they are fully staffed and the appropriate time is given to produce the most positive impact."

Dan Green: "Alternative sentencing and diversion programs have to be carefully reserved for those who are appropriate candidates as well as only for those who can truly benefit. All people of goodwill want to see those who are unable to help themselves get the help they need. No one should extend help to those who refuse to help themselves or may be attempting to game the system in an effort to avoid the consequences of their criminal behaviors. Diversion programs have to be able to discern the difference between these types of people, and this requires a great deal of time, attention and resources. So far, Cole County has been fortunate to have professionals on staff that have been given the necessary resources and have the necessary training and skill-set to make these determinations.

"As a circuit court judge, my primary focus on sentencing those found guilty of a crime is first and foremost, public safety. Rehabilitation of the offender is important only in so far as a truly rehabilitated offender will not commit additional crimes and therefore no longer constitute a threat to public safety. As such, it is vital that a circuit court judge have the necessary experience to ensure that these alternative programs are not over-used or misapplied."

Circuit Judge Division 3

Cotton Walker: "Within our justice system, there are opportunities to reduce recidivism by identifying and eliminating the underlying issue that brings an individual to the courts. If all first time and non-violent offenders are treated the same as real criminals, we are missing the opportunity to improve our community. Treatment courts, with diversion and alternate sentencing opportunities, are statistically proven to reduce repeat offenses.

"As a judge in our community, I have taken on extra work, volunteering time to preside over these courts. I have created unique treatment court models to help individuals who may have substance abuse or mental health issues. I have worked to assist those who may just be victims of circumstances such as assisting veterans, the homeless, and those without jobs or education.

"Now, I work with our 19th Circuit Treatment Courts: Veterans' Court, DWI Court, Adult Drug Court and Mental Health Court. The outcomes from these efforts are often fantastic success stories for the individuals and safety, through reduced crime, with true recovery and wellness for our community.

"As circuit judge, I will remain committed to these opportunities while rendering appropriate sentences for violent and repeat offenders. Cole County and its citizens deserve this commitment and vision."

Mark Richardson: "My experience shows a program can be beneficial when these guidelines are followed: a detailed screening occurs to determine the non-violent status, placement in the program promptly, and required to complete the requirements within fairly set time periods. Those who violate the rules of the program or commit a new crime are quickly removed and returned to the criminal justice system on an expedited docket so that others see first-hand the consequences of not following the program requirements.

"These programs can also be detrimental when the judge repeatedly threatens to sanction the participant for noncompliance but never follows through, the participant was not removed after committing new crimes, the participant ended up not paying restitution to the victims or costs as ordered as part of the program, and the participant remains in the program while continually failing to make the life changes necessary to be a good citizen."

Associate Circuit Judge Division 5

Brian Stumpe: "I believe that alternative sentences and/or diversion programs for non-violent offenders are beneficial to our judicial system, as well as to our community. We all know someone who has been down on their luck, someone who has a child with mental health issues or an addiction, and many of our programs are designed to address those issues. Over my years serving Jefferson City as their prosecutor and now judge, I have developed and implemented several programs to meet these needs. We developed a DWI court for first time offenders, which saw a 75 percent reduction in recidivism from the national average. We developed programs to get area youth back in school and back into their homes. These have given great benefits to our community by helping people turn their lives around and become productive, contributing members of society. We have helped people who have mental health issues get the treatment that they need. We have helped jobless people get gainful employment. For non-violent criminals, if we can address the underlying issues and get them the services that are already available, we can help change bad behavior."

Todd Smith: "I believe that treatment programs and other non-incarceration options have a useful role in the criminal justice system. These options can help save resources and can be productive for certain offenders on a case-by-case basis. However, these alternatives are likely less appropriate in instances of violent behavior or for career criminals where confinement is the best option to protect our community."

Matt Willis: "Treatment courts are extremely vital to the criminal justice system. The 19th Circuit as a whole has a done an excellent job of utilizing treatment courts to treat the underlying causes of addiction, and bring specialists and the courts together as a team to treat addiction. I have had many clients complete diversion programs, get the help they needed, and live productive lives away from the criminal justice system. Treatment courts allow people to remain in their communities, to support their families, and to pay taxes. These programs change lives. This is what we want in our community. In fact, drug courts reduce crime over 35 percent. This keeps our county safer. It's truly inspiring to see the community come together to reduce recidivism, reduce substance abuse, and reduce crime. I am firmly committed to the continued success of our treatment courts."

Tim Anderson: "Goal No. 1 is and has to be: 'Protect the Community.' Once that takes place - to the best of our justice system's ability - I would welcome being able to consider and implement any options or alternatives that would (a) go toward making any victim, and society at large, whole, and (b) would give the offender an opportunity to make changes necessary in his life for him to be a productive and responsible member of society.

"My experience, of over 30 years, has been of being trusted to travel all across Missouri, prosecuting cases involving the very worst of human behavior, and handling those cases from inception through appeal. That same 30-year experience also enabled me to be a member of a drug court, thus to see how, in appropriate circumstances, alternative sentences and diversion programs can protect society while also making a real difference in the life of the offender. Privately, I ministered to inmates (including some whom I prosecuted) through Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship, which group argues for the merits of 'restorative justice.'

"A judge imbued with experience, character, and discretion can, given the tools, both protect our society and also work real change in offenders, particularly the 'non-violent.'"

Scott Evans: "I am a strong advocate for alternative sentencing and diversion programs for minor offenses, veterans, youth and people with mental health needs. These programs, as well as the 'resource' docket currently in place, have proven effective. By utilizing these programs and options, we can positively impact the community and reduce violent crime and repeat offenders. I expect to continue taking advantage of these programs, and exploring ways to expand and improve upon the framework currently in place."

Have you ever experienced/observed an occurrence of racial inequity? If so, how did you feel/react, and did that experience help you gain knowledge that would be beneficial to the judgeship in which you seek?

Circuit Judge Division 2

Bandre: "I attended a grade school that only had three minority students out of over 800 students. Fortunately, college sports exposed me to friends and teammates of many races, cultures and social classes and drove home the reality that the color of our skin is not enough to make us different. Seeing those friends be treated disparately because of their race was disheartening and one of the reasons I chose to become a lawyer.

"The legal system has come a long way since 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' but continued growth needs to occur. One reason we have demonstrations and marches is because there is a core belief that the courts will not or cannot help. If any segment of society feels the court system is against them, then the system cannot function to its highest potential. Every litigant, civil or criminal, needs to feel that they will get their constitutional right to their day in court and a fair determination by their judge.

"The courts, particularly in Cole County, have a unique opportunity to interact with citizens to help grow that level of trust. My goal is to address the perception, and sometimes the reality, that a person is not treated fairly because of their race, creed or place in society. Justice should truly be blind to these issues."

Green: "As a 57-year-old man, of course I have observed occurrences of racial inequities in my lifetime. However, a judge's personal experiences or feelings should never be allowed to influence how he or she applies the law. The law disqualifies prospective jurors from serving on a jury if the facts of a trial are similar to one of the juror's own life experiences. While it is rare for a judge to be similarly disqualified, it is crucial that a judge always make sure that their decisions are made solely on the basis of the law and facts in each individual case, not because of any past personal experiences. Having served as circuit court judge for the past 10 years, I have the judicial experience to ensure this difficult task is accomplished on a daily basis. Serving impartially and without bias or prejudice are the hallmarks of our judicial system, these are the standards I employ in serving as circuit court judge."

Circuit Judge Division 3

Walker: "It is impossible to live in our world today and not experience or observe instances of racial inequity. There is great hope that we have moved into a new era of understanding; recognizing the continued existence of racial bias. We must continue work to eliminate this problem in our society.

"In my many years on the bench, I have always taken my responsibility to remain impartial seriously. That duty of independence with each case, each litigant, each defendant, is the very nature of the job as a judge.

"My commitment and work has been recognized by other judges throughout the state. The Supreme Court of Missouri has appointed me to leadership roles on committees dedicated to equal access to justice. In that role, I work to establish uniform practices and maintain the highest possible judicial standards in our courts throughout Missouri.

"Additionally, I have been asked to speak to groups of lawyers and judges on countless occasions including on issues of ethics and most recently on elimination of bias. In educating fellow members of the bar and bench, I remind them of our rules of professional responsibility and our oath to act 'for the defenseless and oppressed.'"

Richardson: Richardson said he had not experienced or observed an occurrence of racial inequity that would aid him in the judgeship he is seeking.

Associate Circuit Judge Division 5

Stumpe: "Absolutely I have witnessed racial inequality first-hand. When I was interning during law school, I saw a white man who stole a car stereo get a diversion program. On that same day, I saw a Latino man who took two Twinkies go to jail. Later, I saw a white man with methamphetamine get a diversion program and an African American male who had a small amount of marijuana go to jail. I immediately saw the injustice, but I didn't know who was to blame. Blame the prosecutor for making the offer? Blame the defense attorney for telling his client to accept it? Or blame the judge who accepted all of these deals when the disparity was clearly and squarely in front of him? It was then that I decided I wanted to do work in criminal law to fight against that inherent injustice. I want to be clear: Each of those four men broke the law, and there should always be consequences for those actions. But there should not be such disparate results in each case. I have taken that memory with me and have treated defendants in court with respect and dignity no matter what their race."

Smith: "As a serious student of constitutional law, I have studied all of the major civil rights cases, which invariably revolve around racial injustice. While it was sad to learn how the law in parts of America once stood to protect racial inequality, those laws have since evolved to try and prevent those injustices. This process of ever-evolving law makes me optimistic that our system will continually improve to treat all citizens equally. I hope to contribute to that process by being a thoughtful and fair judge."

Willis: "Unfortunately, racial inequity is a reality in the justice system. One such example I've seen is in jury selection. I have African American clients, and I can't imagine what they are thinking when they look out into the jury pool, and see that the pool is almost entirely Caucasian. The jury pool is constitutionally required to reflect the community, but in these instances, it simply doesn't.

"Before a jury trial, courts randomly select members of the community for jury duty. Minorities make up approximately 16 percent of the population of Cole County. Thus, in a jury pool of 100, we would expect 16 minorities to be on the panel. However, attorneys will tell you that we see maybe two or three minorities called for jury duty. Litigants have a constitutional right to be tried by a jury of their peers. Representative juries promote public confidence in the judicial system, make the justice system more diverse, and make our courts more fair and equitable. I am committed to finding ways to bring more minorities into our juries. The court system, and judges in particular, have a constitutional mandate to ensure that the justice system is truly fair and impartial."

Anderson: "I have experienced living life with people who are different from me in many ways: whether skin color, gender, religious belief, political persuasion, height, weight, athletic ability, level of education, two-parent vs. one-parent upbringing, down to favorite ice cream or team. Some differences we are born with, others we choose. But we were made different for a purpose, and there's beauty in this creation.

"God's standards are so much higher than ours. When Jesus taught that one who hates is no different than one who murders, that message shattered the world in which he lived, and ours today. Who among us can say 'I've never thought a bad thought about another'? I can't. But my many faults and failures aside, I can honestly say that someone else's skin color alone has never made me hate or distrust them. I agree with Martin Luther King when he prayed for the day that Americans would be judged, not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.

"I see differences. I acknowledge differences. But 'Lady Justice' wears a blindfold - for a purpose. I choose to look at the character of the man, not his skin color. And I will continue to do so."

Evans: "I believe everyone has been exposed to situations of racial inequity at some level during their life. Some people may not recognize these instances or may choose to look the other way. I do not believe ignorance or inaction will help bridge the gap of all people being created/treated equally that exists in our society today. Acknowledging racial inequities occur, and being compassionate to all individuals in court, are vital for any judge. I believe I possess the ability to do just that every day, for every person before the court. That being said, I would expect no such racial inequities ever occur in my court. I would demand all people, regardless of race, color, background, financial status, sexual orientation, etc., to be treated equally, whether it be by me, the clerks, marshals, prosecutors, attorneys and other citizens. I would absolutely put an end to any mistreatment observed in my court should I be elected."

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