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The candidates running for Cole County's new second associate circuit judge position have different opinions on the number of civil law cases that could go through their court if they are elected.
Democrat Scott Evans and Republican Brian Stumpe are running in the Nov. 3 general election.
Evans owns the Law Office of Evans Crow Halcomb, which he has operated since 2014. Stumpe currently serves as Jefferson City's municipal judge after his election in April 2019; he held the position of Jefferson City municipal prosecuting attorney from 2011-19.
By state statute, the associate circuit judge can handle some civil cases such as lawsuits less than $25,000 or landlord tenant issues, Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce told the News Tribune. Otherwise, cases for the court are assigned by the circuit's presiding judge.
Evans believes those civil cases could occupy more of his time than criminal cases.
"The associate circuit divisions have authority to hear probate cases and could very well be responsible for these cases moving forward," Evans said. "Probate court encompasses a variety of cases including estates of deceased persons as well as incapacitated and/or disabled adults. Additionally, the probate court oversees guardianships of minors when the children need a suitable substitute for their biological parents. As the attorney for the Cole County Public Administrator's Office the last eight years, I have been involved in hundreds of cases in probate court involving adult guardianships and conservatorships."
Stumpe said the closest thing to a probate case he believes the associate circuit court would hear is a 96-hour hold.
"A 96-hour hold is when there has been an application, supported by affidavit, that a person is a threat to themselves or others," Stumpe said. "The associate judge will review the application and affidavit and make a determination whether the person needs psychiatric help. If a need for such help is determined, the associate judge will sign what is essentially a warrant, ordering that person to be picked up by law enforcement and delivered to a mental health facility for a mental health evaluation. If the facility determines that further treatment is required, then it will bring the issue back to the associate judge for a hearing."
Evans said family court cases, including divorces and child custody cases, also could make up a large portion of the new associate judge's caseload.
"A large percentage of my business the last eight years has been in family and juvenile court," Evans said. "If I were going through a divorce, I would feel more comfortable with a judge who has handled hundreds of other divorces."
Stumpe, who currently serves as Jefferson City municipal judge, noted current Associate Circuit Court Judge Cotton Walker does not handle family law cases.
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"The closest thing to a family law case an associate judge will hear is an ex parte order or protection case," Stumpe said. "Those for adults are currently heard by Circuit Judge Dan Green, and those for minors are heard by Circuit Judge Jon Beetem. There could be an occasion when a circuit judge is not available to hear one of these cases. Then an associate judge may fill in for some of these hearings."
Evans believes the largest issue with these cases is the length of time it takes to get to trial.
"There are times it is unavoidable, but in general, these cases need to be worked through the courts more quickly," Evans said. "The judge needs to hold the parties and attorneys accountable to work the cases so they do not drag on as they currently do, which also bogs down the court and the ability to hear other matters."
Stumpe said the job of the new associate judge will be "to be one of the gatekeepers for almost every single criminal case in Cole County."
"Along with handling civil cases where the controversy is less than $25,000, they will be a fill in for the circuit judges in unique situations," Stumpe added. "The new associate circuit judge must be diligent to attend to a large workload and must be willing to move cases along to give litigants and defendants a certainty and finality to their cases. My experience as a criminal prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, civil attorney for both petitioner and respondent, work in administrative law; and my time serving as a municipal judge has prepared me to serve in the new associate judge position for our county."