Josh Devine attributes much of his success as an attorney, judge and father to his dad.
“I grew up in his courtroom,” Devine said.
Devine is a lifelong Columbia resident, a graduate of Hickman High School, Truman State University and the MU School of Law. He practiced civil litigation as an attorney until 2018 when he served as associate judge for Division XI after being appointed to the post by former Gov. Eric Greitens.
He lost that position to Democrat Stephanie Morrell in the November 2018 election. In June, however, Gov. Mike Parson appointed him Division IV circuit judge for the 13th Judicial Circuit when Jodie Asel retired. He’s now seeking election to a four-year term and faces a challenge from Democrat Andy Hirth.
Devine’s father, James Devine, was a fixture in Columbia. He served on the faculty of the MU Law School for 30 years before his unexpected death in 2010.
Bob Bailey, a member of the law school faculty and treasurer for Josh Devine’s campaign, said James Devine was “the paragon of what you want in an academic associate dean because he loved our students.”
Bailey said on the first day of class every year, James Devine would write his home phone number on the board at the front of the room.
“He would say to his students: ‘Anytime, anywhere, call me, get a hold of me if you need anything,’” Bailey said. “And he meant it, and that was the type of person he was.”
That care and dedication translates to his son, Bailey said.
“Josh inherited from his dad a sense of moral integrity that we would want everyone in our profession to emulate,” Bailey said.
Bailey has known Josh Devine for most of his life and watched him grow up.
“Josh has always been, even as a teenager, just a respectful, very conscientious, very kind, thoughtful person,” he said. “And that continued when he was in undergraduate school at Truman, and it certainly continued while he was at the law school.”
As a judge, Josh Devine said he feels a connection with his father, who worked as an associate municipal judge in Columbia and taught trial practice at MU.
“It would have been him that was the most proud of me for (becoming a judge),” Devine said. “And not because it said anything about me, but because I know that it would be a reflection on him.”
Father and family man
Despite attending high school minutes away from each other and graduating from the same college, Devine and his wife, Christina Devine, didn’t meet until their first day of law school at MU. They just clicked and were inseparable, Bailey said. Christina Devine works as an attorney at Boone County Family Resources.
Devine has two sons, ages 6 and 8. His older son is about the age Devine was when he first remembers going to the courtroom with his father, and he hopes to have the same positive influence on his sons that his father had on him.
“You wonder as an adult how much you’re impacting your children, and you know that it’s a great deal, right,” Devine said. “But there’s moments where it is just more visible than others.”
His younger son held up a piece of paper at his preschool graduation with a picture and the word “judge” on it to show what he wanted to be when he grew up. When Devine asked his son about it, he said the other career he would consider is an ice cream man.
“When you’re a young person, you look at your parents, and there’s a great impetus to want to follow them,” Devine said. “At the same time, you know, like anything, you have your own dreams.”
Spending time with his family has been especially important for Devine during the pandemic. He said he spends a lot of time at the courthouse, even on Saturdays.
“As a result of that, when I’m home, I’m home.”
Day in court
Devine said one of the biggest challenges in making the transition from attorney to judge is realizing that many people who leave the courtroom don’t feel as if they’ve “had their day in court.” He mentions the phrase often when describing his courtroom style and what he values in a judge.
Devine estimates his daily dockets are 70% to 75% criminal cases.
“When I first stepped onto the bench, I had this overwhelming realization,” he said. “I mean, it was just a sinking feeling in my stomach, that there are people that come to court that do not feel like they have had their day in court. They have not been heard.”
Devine said a simple greeting or engaging a defendant in a longer dialogue helps demonstrate that a case is not just about fairness and equality but also about respect.
“If I just talk to their attorney, they don’t feel like they’re a part of this process,” Devine said. “And yet, this is their life that we’re talking about, literally.”
That philosophy drives Devine’s interest in alternative sentencing. He believes getting to the root of an issue is about listening and finding a way to treat a person’s problems without putting them in custody if possible.
“We have so many people in this community that are committing nonviolent offenses that are related in some way to either drug addiction or a mental health issue,” he said. “And sometimes, the drug addiction and the mental health issue go hand in hand. And it’s really figuring out which one is driving what.”
Devine said he pays attention to detail in identifying peoples’ circumstances when setting bail bonds. Setting bail is a complex process in which a judge must consider a variety of factors, such as whether the person is a flight risk or poses a danger to the public. Devine looks for signs that someone should be released on their own recognizance, without bail. Just because two people are accused of committing the same crime doesn’t mean they can afford or deserve the same bond amount, he said.
Striving for sincerity
Devine said conversations with defendants have been more difficult to have via Zoom and through masks.
“And so when I have a personal conversation with somebody about, I really want you to address this addiction problem that is in your life,” Devine said, “You know, I want you to hear the sincerity of my voice, that I mean that I want this for you, and ... you need to want it for yourself. And that’s really difficult to convey those human emotions via a video feed.”
COVID-19 has brought more challenges to the courtroom, most notably a delay in jury trials, which only adds to the backlog of cases and the strain on public defenders, who are very capable but overworked and underfunded, Devine said. He said the waiting list for a public defender can be as long as 18 months.
Kayla Jackson-Williams, a former public defender who appeared in Devine’s court in 2018 and later joined him in private practice at Rogers, Ehrhardt, Weber & Howard, said he always takes the time to do his research when making a ruling.
“He was super — it’s weird because we used to say, ‘Don’t say the “f” word, which is fair,’ because you know life just isn’t fair — but he was really fair in his rulings,” Jackson-Williams said.
Devine said it’s been humbling to work and serve the community he grew up in. He knows many of the attorneys who appear before him, often because of his father, he said.
“To this day, it’s 10 years after my dad passed, there is not hardly a week that goes by that somebody doesn’t come up to me and tell me how they were impacted by him in some way,” Devine said.
Devine said he appreciates Columbia because it’s a small town with characteristics of a big town, citing the presence of MU and a vibrant downtown.
“Because of the university culture, there’s a lot of transitioning in and out, who’s here five years from now is going to be different than who’s here now,” Devine said. “And the same thing five years ago. And at the same time, there are so many constants in our community, people that have been here for hundreds of years, people like me that have been here for my whole life.”
Devine believes that as a judge it’s important to engage in the community. That’s why he is the president of IMPACT Rotary of Columbia and a member of the board of directors for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Mid-Missouri.
“I don’t think that I would be a very good judge if I wasn’t a part of this community. I think it’s really helpful to get out, ... not only be seen as being a part of the community, but actually experience it.”