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story.lead_photo.caption Cotton Walker poses at his desk in this Sept. 7, 2018, photo. Photo by News Tribune / News Tribune.

Experience. Cotton Walker said the word defines why he should be elected Cole County associate circuit judge.

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Walker, who won the two-way Republican race for associate circuit judge in the Cole County's August primary election, will face Democrat Gaylin Rich Carver in the Nov. 6 general election. She ran unopposed in the August primary. Incumbent Judge Tom Sodergren is not running for re-election.

Walker has been serving as the elected municipal judge for Jefferson City since 2011. He was municipal judge in Russellville from 1994-2007.

"After 24 years of municipal experience, being asked to serve as associate circuit judge for Cole County is a natural progression in my commitment to our community," he said. "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. An associate circuit judge also conducts preliminary hearings on felony cases and may also hear civil cases. This is law and justice for real people in our community. Serving in this position will be an extension of how I have been involved in the community and in my law practice representing individuals and businesses for over a quarter-century."

Along with his time on the bench, Walker said, he has worked in other ways to improve the court system for residents. He has served on the board of directors for the Missouri Municipal and Associate Circuit Judges Association.

"I just completed a term as president of this statewide organization, which is responsible for the education of judges in order to maintain the highest possible judicial standards in our courts," he said. "I also have accepted committee appointments by the Missouri Supreme Court to work with the Office of State Courts Administrator with the same goals for our strong and independent judiciary."

Through this public service, Walker said, he has continued to work for justice in the courts and in Cole County.

"Municipal court is where most people get their first, and often only, experience with the court system," he said. "Ensuring that defendants and other attendees leave court with a sense of procedural fairness — including an understanding and appreciation that the judicial process they just experienced is separate and distinct from the executive (police and prosecutor) and legislative (city council) functions of government — is imperative and is a goal I endeavor to meet in each and every case, regardless of outcome."

Walker said he is proud of the success of the Community Partner Program he initiated in municipal court to connect people with resources they need. After seeing some individuals numerous times in court, Walker said, it became apparent it was not criminal intent that continued to bring them to court, but more complicated issues.

"We have people who commit offenses related to lack of education, homelessness, poverty, addictions, mental health issues, unemployment or even veterans with PTSD," he said. "So I found a way to connect those people to our community resources, and since then repeat offenses have dropped significantly."

The Community Partner Program started in 2016 with finding services for mental health issues and has grown to more than a dozen partners.

Walker said his experience on the bench is something that cannot be replicated, even in the practice of law.

"There are lessons to learn, and I am a better judge now than I was when I started," he said. "The art of deciding cases in a fair and impartial manner is critical to the justice system. This is an art I have constantly strived to hone."

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