How to address violent crime, views on bonds and possible reforms in the justice system.
Those were some of the issues discussed Tuesday during a forum sponsored by the News Tribune involving the candidates running in the Nov. 3 general election for the second Associate Circuit Judge position in Cole County.
Democrat Scott Evans and Republican Brian Stumpe are running for the new associate circuit judge position scheduled to start hearing cases in January. Evans ran uncontested in the August Democratic primary, while Stumpe won a four-candidate race in the Republican primary.
During the forum at Jefferson City Hall, the candidates were asked to answer a question submitted from the Cole County Democratic Committee on if they believed all citizens have adequate access to legal help, and if not, what can be done to give better access.
Stumpe said he did not believe there was equal access and said part of the problem is public defenders offices with "huge waiting lists."
"There are several things to help but not often are they available to the judge," Stumpe said. "Legislatively, if we could change how public defenders are funded and bring in part-time and full-time public defenders, the part-time defenders could focus on misdemeanor cases with the full-time defenders focusing on the more serious cases."
In response, Evans said: "I agree that not everyone has adequate access, and while the public defenders are important, it goes beyond criminal cases.
"At the associate level, you deal with civil cases such as divorces or child custody. Most people don't qualify for the help that is offered, but there are ways the court could help. The local bar could assist, and as the vice president of the local bar, I believe attorneys have a responsibility to assist when they can so we might be able to come up with ways to ease burdens that could free up public defenders."
Two News Tribune readers submitted questions about cash bonds, asking if the candidates favored eliminating money bail for most crimes since the readers felt cash bonds discriminate against lower income residents who could lose jobs and homes while having to wait in the justice system.
"Cash bonds can be utilized, but I see it being done on a case-by-case basis," Evans said. "There's no reason to give someone with no job no way to pay a cash bond. Cash bonds are appropriate if a person can afford it."
"Cash-only bonds are done in rare cases such as if a person is a threat to society," Stumpe said. "It's not good to eliminate the cash-only bond because it makes sure a person comes back to court, and it protects society. You can re-visit the matter with bond hearings and have bond investigations. You can make the amount contingent on the financial situation of the person involved."
According to statistics provided by the Jefferson City Fraternal Order of Police, weapons offenses in the city have increased by nearly 30 percent from 2018-19. The organization submitted a question asking the candidates what their views were on gun violence and how does that apply to sentencing firearm-related violent crimes.
"I don't have much patience for gun violence, and I'm running for judge because I want to take ownership for the safety of our community," Evans said. "It's a trend we need to stop. I feel our police officers are grossly underpaid, and better pay could help with retention and help build relationships in our community. When you lose out on those relationships, you lose that trust in the community that might be able to help cut down on violent crime from happening."
Stumpe responded: "In 2009, I personally went through an armed robbery so I have no tolerance for violent gun crime.
"If you come to my court and you're there for a gun related crime, you're gonna wish you didn't have Judge Stumpe because I will hand down a sentence in a manner that you won't be a threat to society for quite a while," he said. "The associate circuit judge doesn't have the final say in felony cases, but nonetheless, gun violence will not be tolerated in my court."
Video fo the forum can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJf1ozU8Q0E