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Five judicial candidates vie for Division V seat on Circuit Court

Friday, July 18, 2014 | 5:03 p.m. CDT; updated 9:29 a.m. CDT, Monday, August 4, 2014

COLUMBIA — Five candidates have filed to be on the ballot to replace retiring Division V Associate Circuit Judge Larry Bryson in the Aug. 5 primary.

The three Democrats and two Republicans will be narrowed to one candidate per party, who will appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Associate circuit judge job description

Associate circuit judges hear misdemeanor, infraction, felony, municipal ordinance violation and small claims cases. They also hear civil cases that do not exceed $25,000 and may be assigned to handle all circuit division cases.

There are 45 judicial circuits in the state, and Boone County is part of the 13th Judicial Circuit. Division V associate circuit judges handle Boone County cases at the Boone County Courthouse.

Associate circuit judges serve four-year terms. The current salary for the job is $116,858.

Candidates must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen.
  • Be a qualified voter.
  • Be a resident of the county in which they are running.
  • Be at least 25 years old.
  • Be licensed to practice law in Missouri.

Candidates seeking a judicial office must follow rules of conduct on campaigning that state candidates may not:

  • Make pledges or promises in office other than working faithfully and impartially in office.
  • Make false or misleading statements about their identity, qualifications, or other facts.
  • Solicit or accept campaign funds in a courthouse or on court grounds.
  • Solicit in person campaign funds from persons likely to appear before them as judges, but they may write a campaign solicitation for campaign funds of any person or group, including those likely to appear before them as judges.


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Bryson announced in January that he would retire from Missouri's 13th Circuit Court at the end of the year after 28 years in the position because of retirement rules that would not allow him to fulfill another four-year term, according to previous Missourian reporting. Judges can serve until the age of 70. Bryson will be 67 in August.

DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES

Robert Fleming

Fleming, 58, of Rocheport is an assistant public defender in the 14th Judicial Circuit in Moberly. He was born in Grand Island, Neb., and moved to Columbia in 1974 when he attended MU.

There, he received a bachelor’s in political science in 1978, and he received his juris doctorate from the MU Law School in 1982.

Fleming worked for the Missouri State Tax Commission for four years before and after graduating from MU. He was the assistant Boone County prosecutor between 1984 and 1986, and he spent four years in private trial litigation practice in Columbia.

In 1989, Fleming was hired as an adjunct professor at Columbia College, where he taught constitutional law, judicial process and criminal law and procedure until 1991. In 1990, he joined the Missouri State Public Defender System where he’s been for more than 20 years.

While with the Public Defender System, Fleming worked as the district defender of Boone County, a senior assistant public defender and leader of a post-conviction team that reviewed court cases to ensure they were fairly tried and that justice was done.

Fleming is married. He and his wife, Julie, have three daughters and three grandchildren.

Fleming said he is active with the Missouri 4-H program as well as Relay for Life. He’s also a member of a car club “with a bunch of cronies" who like to work on cars.

Fleming said his experience as a prosecutor in Boone County sets him apart from the other candidates.

“(Being a prosecutor) is a very high calling,” he said. “That is a responsible calling and requires a certain mentality of not just wanting to make sure that you win a case but ultimately that justice is served and is done when the day is over."



Finley Gibbs

Gibbs, 49, is a partner at Rotts & Gibbs, a law firm in Columbia. He was born in ­­­­­ Portland, Ore., and moved to Columbia in 1981 when he was 16.

He graduated from Hickman High School in 1983 and attended MU and the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he received a bachelor’s degree in speech communication in 1988. After spending time in California and St. Louis, Finley came back to Columbia to attend law school at MU in 1994. He graduated with his juris doctorate in 1996.

Gibbs began working as an associate for Columbia attorney Bill Rotts in 1997, and he became a partner in the firm in 2000. Gibbs said he has worked on criminal defense cases as well as cases related to family law, traffic matters, car crashes and personal injury.

Gibbs lives in Columbia and is married to Becky Gibbs. They have two sons. He identifies himself as the “outdoorsy type" and enjoys playing guitar, sailing and mountain biking.

Gibbs said the caseload of Division V matches his experience as an attorney.

“Throughout my career, I’ve had a good blend of civil cases and criminal cases, and this particular division has the same thing,” he said.

“This is different than small claims court, but it’s not as advanced as circuit court where people might litigate higher-level cases. So, because it’s the regular type of person who ends up in this courtroom more often than the higher-level courtrooms, that’s where my interest lies."

Kim Shaw

Shaw, 53, is an assistant public defender in the 13th Judicial Circuit, which includes Boone and Callaway counties. She was born in Louisiana, Mo., and moved to Columbia in 1968 while her parents attended college.

She graduated from Hickman High School in 1979 and attended night school at Columbia College, earning a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1986. She received her juris doctorate from MU in 1989.

Shaw spent two years as a public defender in Cape Girardeau County after receiving her law degree, then came back to Columbia to work in the Central Capital Division, where she handled death penalty jury trials.

She was promoted to district defender, running the office before she left to start her own law firm in 2000. She served on the family and criminal law committees of the Boone County Bar Association during her nine years practicing law in mid-Missouri. She returned to public service in her current position in 2009.

Shaw lives in Columbia and is married to Chuck Brown. She has a son and three stepchildren. She said she enjoys traveling "anywhere there's water," reading, fishing and riding ATVs. She also moved back to Columbia from Ashland last year and has spent much of her time recently remodeling her new home.

Shaw ran against Bryson in the 2010 Democratic primary, losing by less than 3 percent of the vote. She said her experience practicing law in mid-Missouri, including handling many cases in Bryson's court, have helped her to understand the responsibility of the position.

"The judge is in a position to ... make people feel comfortable, and to know that whatever happens with their cases, you’ve given it 110 percent," she said. "You want somebody who can be fair, apply the law appropriately and treat everyone who comes in to the courthouse with dignity and respect, and I think I do that daily."

REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES

Doug Shull

Shull runs his own practice at the Law Office of C. Douglas Shull in Columbia. As of Friday afternoon, he had not responded to Missourian requests for an interview.

Michael Whitworth

Whitworth, 59, is an attorney at the firm Ford, Parshall, & Baker in Columbia. He was born in Hillsboro, Ill., and moved from St. Louis to Columbia in 1985 after finishing law school.

He attended Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1982. He attended law school at St. Louis University and graduated with his juris doctorate in 1985.

Whitworth became an assistant attorney general for Missouri shortly after graduation. He left the position in 1991 to go into private practice. Whitworth’s primary practice, he said, is litigation relating to criminal cases and family law.

Whitworth lives in Columbia and is married to Melody. They have a daughter who is also an attorney. Outside of the courtroom, he enjoys playing guitar and plays in a classic rock band.

Whitworth said his ability to be impartial, his ability to be respectful and his experience representing both plaintiffs and defendants — and dealing with both criminal and civil cases — qualifies him for the position.

“I think the most important thing about being a judge is the ability to listen to both sides, to not have preconceived opinions,” he said. “I think you go in and you listen to both sides and you treat both sides with respect. I think that’s very important.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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