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Cole County's only contested countywide race in the Nov. 3 general election is between two candidates for associate circuit judge.
Democrat Scott Evans and Republican Brian Stumpe are running for the new associate circuit judge position scheduled to start hearing cases in January in Cole County. Evans ran uncontested in the August Democratic primary, while Stumpe won a four-candidate race in the Republican primary.
Evans owns the Law Office of Evans Crow Halcomb and has operated the firm since his partner, Tina Crow Halcomb's, passing in 2014.
Stumpe currently serves as Jefferson City's municipal judge after his election in April 2019. Stumpe held the position of Jefferson City municipal prosecuting attorney from 2011-19 and has been a private practice attorney for several years.
In May 2018, the Missouri Legislature approved a second associate circuit judge's position in the 19th Circuit. That position was removed in 2003, when the third circuit judge's job was added.
The court Evans and Stumpe are seeking to be elected to can hear several criminal matters, probate cases, domestic and family law matters, landlord-tenant disputes, and other civil cases.
Evans and Stumpe said they know they will have to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic's effects on the courts if elected.
"This pandemic has wreaked havoc with the court system and necessitated closures and changes which have slowed the judicial process for most cases," Evans said. "Catching up on the backlog and working to get the courts back to normal will be vital for Cole County. Being flexible and adjusting to the post-COVID normal, whatever that may be, will be important as well."
Stumpe said: "The courts in Cole County — including the Jefferson City Municipal Court where I currently serve as judge — have been quick to address this issue with limiting the number of people in a courtroom at any given time, taking people's temperature before they enter the building, creating online court sessions and hearings, allowing more cases to be done without litigants appearing in person, and working closely with the Missouri Supreme Court to implement new requirements they have set forth."
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Stumpe said fair and impartial administration of justice is his chief goal if elected to the office.
"Every single person that comes into court for a civil or criminal case wants to know they are being treated fairly," Stumpe said. "It is the job of the judge to ensure that the litigants and defendants know this, feel they were treated fairly, and know that the law was applied impartially to their case."
Evans said a largely undiscussed issue of importance for the new judge is how to ease the burden of the four existing divisions.
"I expect the court will adjust the responsibilities of each division," Evans said. "Otherwise, the addition of a fifth judge is only helping with the workload of one existing division. There are ways to adjust which cases are heard in each division so that the new judge can take some of the work from each of the existing divisions, thus helping the entire courthouse function more efficiently."
Stumpe said he expects the new judge will deal with a rising number of pursuit and resisting arrest cases.
"The judge must make sure that people who break the law and create dangerous situations for the rest of society are dealt with in a manner that shows people engaged in these criminal activities that this will not be tolerated in our community," Stumpe said. "This requires the judge to be fair and ensure everyone has the rights they are given under the Constitution, but once those are afforded, if it is determined that people are engaging in these behaviors, society needs to know that the judge will impose a sentence that will deter these actions in the future."
Evans said balancing fairness with the interest of public safety is something the new judge must maintain.
"All felony cases begin in the Associate Circuit Division, and that judge is largely responsible for initially setting a defendant's bond," Evans said. "The judge must follow Supreme Court guidelines in doing so. Balancing each defendant's rights, while following the required guidelines, with the community interests is quite possibly the largest responsibility for this position. I intend to err in favor of the community, especially when dealing with repeat offenders or serious offenses."
The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 3 election is Oct. 7.