When Andy Hirth was young, his father used to quiz him on the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. A high school English teacher, Paul Hirth had an interest in the law because he knew it depended on the written word.
Paul Hirth also read to him regularly and liked literature with political undertones. One book that left an indelible impression was “Watership Down,” a novel by Richard Adams in which a group of rabbits seek a new home after the destruction of their warren.
“It contains a profound discussion on the role of government as well as the relationship between government and people,” Hirth said.
Paul Hirth early on planted the seed that would lead his son into the legal profession. Andy Hirth knew he wanted to be a judge by the time he got to law school.
“Everyone should have to play by the rules,” Hirth said. “The responsibility of a judge is to make sure they are applied evenly.”
Hirth, 47, is running for 13th Circuit Court Division IV judge, which serves Boone and Callaway counties. He is competing against Republican incumbent Josh Devine.
Since graduating from the MU School of Law in 2005, Hirth has worked on both sides of the bench. He spent two years as a clerk for U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey, and then he worked three years in Chicago with the national law firm for Jenner & Block.
Hirth took a job with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office in 2010. He spent a year in the litigation division and five years as deputy general counsel. In 2016, Hirth taught constitutional law at MU, which he called the highlight of his career
Hirth, Joanna Trachtenberg and Julianne Germinder left the attorney general’s office in 2017 to form TGH Litigation, a law firm that focuses on civil rights issues.
Trachtenberg finds Hirth an entertaining conversationalist. They talk about science fiction, literature and recent cases that have come up in both the Missouri and U.S. supreme courts.
“He is great fun to talk to,” Trachtenberg said. “He knows so many things, and he reads broadly.”
Trachtenberg has mixed feelings about Hirth’s potential departure.
“I will miss having him to think through the cases,” she said. “It will be a personal loss but a societal gain.”
Itching to run
Several factors influenced Hirth’s decision to run for judge. He itched to return to public service, where he could positively affect more lives. And he noticed what he called the erosion of the rule of law.
“A lot of norms that have been in place have been undermined or outright swept away in the last four years,” he said. He cited issues surrounding the Sunshine Law that arose during the administrations of former Gov. Eric Greitens and Gov. Mike Parson.
Hirth recalled government officials using Confide, a texting app that erases texts as soon as they're sent.
“When you have government trying to conceal what it’s doing, it’s troubling,” Hirth said. “I was seeing a shift towards this not only being legal, but also elected officials trying to figure out ways to avoid transparency and oversight.”
Hirth also lamented a state representative blocking people on Twitter, alluding to a controversy involving Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch. “You should have access to your state reps. “They shouldn’t be able to censor people based on their views.”
Hirth said he also got good advice from Pemiscot County Circuit Judge Ed Reeves , who was his grading partner for the bar exam. Reeves told him he liked being a judge far more than being an advocate and urged Hirth to seek a position on the bench sooner rather than later.
Hirth’s experience as a judicial clerk allowed him to see firsthand the kind of impact a judge can have. He recalled one case involving a divorced couple’s child custody dispute. The man was from Missouri, and the woman was from Australia. Their kids would split time in both countries. When the father on one occasion failed to send the children back, the woman sued in Laughrey’s court.
Laughrey ordered the mother to come to the courthouse in Jefferson City, out of fear the father would flee with the children rather than handing them over after her ruling in the mother’s favor.
“This case made me appreciate how you have to look beyond the legal issue,” Hirth said. “The decisions made by judges have far-reaching consequences in people’s lives and their behavior.”
Colleagues offer praise
Hirth believes his legal style will translate nicely to the bench.
“I would bring an emphasis on the full implications of the law,” he said. “When I get a set of facts, I look at the whole picture before making my decision.”
Trachtenberg met Hirth 10 years ago when they both worked in litigation at the attorney general’s office. She said Hirth was the go-to guy whenever a tricky constitutional problem came up. She wasn’t surprised when then-Attorney General Chris Koster chose him to be deputy general counsel.
“Part of what makes him so good at analyzing legal argument is he believes there is a legal answer to all questions,” Trachtenberg said. “Andy comes at it from a ‘let’s see what the law says’ approach.”
Trachtenberg also marvels at how Hirth deals with clients.
“I have seen from him an ability to talk to all kinds of people ranging from students in school to factory workers in a way that makes them feel heard,” she said, adding that judges often have to deal with people representing themselves and make them feel that they are being treated fairly.
Hirth has also made an impression in the courtroom. Antwaun Smith, a counsel for the UM System, has matched wits with Hirth on a couple of occasions. A couple weeks ago, Hirth and Smith were arguing a case in the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Smith said the presiding judge was hard on Hirth at times, but he acquitted himself well.
“He wasn’t fazed at all, and he continued to make arguments in a thoughtful manner.”
Smith said Hirth is thoughtful and fair. “He will listen to both sides. He won’t come in with any preconceived notions.”
Trachtenberg recalled another case in which Hirth needed to take the deposition of a defendant who was extremely upset about a lawsuit filed against her. At one point, she was verbally berating Hirth.
“He let her vent and then patiently waited to ask his questions,” Trachtenberg said. “He resisted all the temptation and got the answers he needed that day.”
Don Strong, one of Hirth’s former clients, called him even-keeled. He was struck by Hirth’s methodical approach.
“He made sure he believed what we were saying,” Strong said. “That’s kind of unique because often lawyers don’t care about the truth.”
Hirth believes in equitable justice. “Within discretion of the law, what is the fairest result that allows each person to maximize their potential and minimize the intrusion on their rights.”
He said too often justice depends on the size of your pocketbook.
“A judge needs to understand that an argument advanced by a $600-an-hour, white-shoe, law-firm attorney is not entitled to any more deference than an argument being made by a public defender,” he said.
Hirth believes his experiences demonstrate his commitment to fairness.
“As an advocate, I have focused a lot of what I’ve done on trying to make things fair for people,” he said. “This is a proxy for what I will do as a judge.”
Hirth has started educating himself on the issues he will confront if he’s elected. He’s interested in exploring alternatives for dealing with crime because throwing people in jail for misdeeds is inefficient.
“Taxpayers are paying to feed that person and house them,” Hirth said. “If that person could be made to be productive, that’s a much better outcome for everyone.” He acknowledges rehabilitation is sometimes impossible.
He also sees room for better bail bonding policies, including no-cash bail options, for those who can’t afford to get themselves out of jail while they await trial.
“During that period of time, the individual probably is not working and is unable to take care of family,” said Hirth. “This has a deleterious effect on the community.”
As he prepares for the possibility of a new chapter in his life, one of his father’s life lessons comes to mind.
“My father used to always say: 'Of those, to whom much is given, much is asked,” Hirth said.