Candidates for the 13th Circuit Court judge seat discussed racial and economic inequality and the challenges brought by COVID-19 at a League of Women Voters candidate forum Wednesday evening.
Circuit court judge candidates Andy Hirth and Josh Devine debated at the event, which took place 20 days before the Nov. 3 election. Mahree Skala, a Columbia Board of Health member, mediated Wednesday's event.
The circuit court candidates gave opening and closing statements, and answered a series of questions from the League of Women Voters and forum attendees in between.
Judge Josh Devine, the Republican candidate running for 13th judicial circuit judge, was appointed by Gov. Mike Parson to the bench in June. Devine previously served as the associate judge for division 11 in 2018.
The Democratic candidate, Andy Hirth, is a partner at TGH Litigation, a firm he co-founded in 2017. Hirth specializes in constitutional law and represents people in gender, race and disability discrimination cases.
Hirth and Devine are old law school classmates and agreed on several of the issues discussed at the forum, including the issue of bail bonds and COVID-19 delays in trial settings.
The first question of the night focused on what the candidates would do to address chronic racial and economic disparities in the legal system.
Hirth cited the common disparities in criminal sentencing and setting bonds. Devine agreed and said that he saw the issue of bond setting often come up in cases of lower-level, nonviolent drug offenses.
The next question asked the candidates to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the legal system.
Devine talked about the unavoidable delays occurring during COVID-19, particularly for jury trials.
“Delay is the ultimate enemy of justice,” Devine said.
Hirth built on that point from an attorney's perspective and said that trial setting has been a big issue, but so has discovery.
"It's sometimes difficult to get all of the lawyers on the same page to discuss a deposition in person like we normally do," Hirth said.
Hirth also cited the importance of building a rapport with the jury, which can’t be done as easily over Zoom.
When asked what they thought the greatest challenge would be if they won the election, both candidates discussed the backlog of cases caused by COVID-19 and the growing waitlist for public defenders. Devine said that judges should prioritize efficiency but also be mindful of “making sure that people understand and feel like they’ve had their day in court,” which includes considering alternative sentencing options such as treatment court.
Current sheriff lauds department progress
The candidates for county sheriff were scheduled to debate as well, but Republican candidate Charles Blair was not present. Under League rules, this meant this part of the forum had to be canceled. Democratic candidate and current sheriff Dwayne Carey outlined his background and experience at the end of the evening.
Carey emphasized the many years he has spent with the Boone County Sheriff's Department, beginning with an internship in 1989. In 2004, he was elected sheriff. Since then, he has developed several task forces, he said, including one for targeting internet crimes and another for crisis intervention.
Under his guidance, both the Boone County Jail and the department as a whole received national accreditation through the National Institute for Jail Operations and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, respectively. The jail was the first in the state to earn this distinction.
Carey said his experience is what will make the difference.