Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce has announced she will not run for another term as circuit judge and will retire after her current term.
Joyce, currently the lone Democrat in county office in Cole County, said she will finish the remainder of her six-year term, which ends in December 2020.
She had considered retiring in 2014 and not running for a third term, she said, but eventually, she decided to run and won a close contest in November 2014 with Brian Stumpe, who is now Jefferson City municipal judge.
After working in the county prosecutor's office, Joyce served as Cole County associate circuit judge from 1995-2002. Then, she won election to what was then the new, third circuit judge's position that went into effect Jan. 1, 2003.
Joyce has presided over numerous cases, from probate court to murder.
She helped start the adult and juvenile drug courts, a family drug court to assist parents in becoming sober and responsible, and a veterans court. She also launched a mediation project with the University of Missouri-Columbia Law School in small claims cases.
"I've got to think that the drug courts have been one of the best things we've implemented, along with the pre-trial release program," Joyce said. "I hope that when I came to work every day I came ready to work, with dedication to taking care of the people that were put in front of me, and treated people courteously."
Joyce still believes more needs to be done to improve how the community and courts interact.
"People are scared to death to come to court, and you see that every day," Joyce said. "Anything the court can do to make it more manageable for people or comfortable, we need to do.
"It's hard for people to understand that a judge can have so much power over a person's life. They say, 'If I were judge, I would do such and such,' like judges on TV. But that's not how you treat people, and it's not how you get them to buy into a solution that makes sense for them."
Joyce's husband, Dan, who served many years with the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City, is retired, and her children are in various locations across the country.
"After being at the courthouse for over 37 years, when my term ends, it's time to do something different," Joyce said. "I want to have my car going in a different direction."
If she had run for another term, Joyce would not have been able to complete it because she would turn 70 during that six-year period. State law allows judges to serve until they're 70.
"I think people are entitled to vote for someone who can complete a full term in this office," she said.
Joyce said she has no plans to serve as a senior judge. Senior judges are retired judges who can be called on by circuits to hear cases when all other judges in the circuit have recused themselves from hearing those cases. They can also help if there is a backlog of cases that need to be dealt with in a circuit.
"I also don't plan to practice law when I leave," Joyce said. "I think that would be unfair for my colleagues, and I'm ready to do something different than being in a courtroom day in and day out."
This story was edited at 12:03 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2019, to correctly state Brian Stumpe's current position.