As a community service, the Sedalia Democrat will profile each of the candidates in contested races in the Aug. 5 primary election in the weekend edition. This week will highlight Jeff Mittelhauser and Stanley Cox as they face off for the GOP nod for Division 6 Judge.
With a vast knowledge of court procedure garnered from nearly three decades in the Pettis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Jeff Mittelhauser said patience, a broad knowledge of the applicable law and a desire to try to reach a fair and impartial decision in each case are the qualities every judge should possess.
Mittelhauser graduated from Central Missouri State University, now the University of Central Missouri, in 1978 and from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law in 1981. He was the first public defender in Pettis County, also serving Morgan and Moniteau counties, before becoming an assistant prosecutor.
He served as assistant prosecutor for four years and was elected as Pettis County Prosecuting Attorney in 1986. He also served as Sedalia City Attorney during his tenure as assistant prosecutor.
What does Mittelhauser feel is the biggest challenge the courts are facing at this time?
“The biggest challenge to the courts are handling impartially, fairly and efficiently, a growing docket of criminal cases,” he said. “I see that from my end, and it’s a minor thing, which most people won’t notice, but with the courts going to e-bench and e-filing now, we are on that learning curve and it is sort of delaying some of the dockets.”
Drugs are a problem not just in Pettis County, but also across the country. With more and more states pushing toward treatment for low-level drug offenders, will Mittelhauser as judge favor that approach or push for incarceration?
“For any low level and by that I mean possession-only first offenders, I believe they should have an opportunity for treatment as part of their disposition of their criminal case. For people that are manufacturing, selling, bringing drugs into the community, then rehabilitation takes a distant backseat to punishment,” Mittelhauser said.
Another problem plaguing the community at this time is petty theft. Each day the police blotter is filled with incidents of stealing under $150. If elected, how can he help end these crimes?
“On these routine crimes such as thefts from motor vehicles, vandalism, the result has to serve as a deterrent to others, but also must be fair to the offender who is caught,” Mittelhauser said.
Courts across the nation are continuously searching for new punishments as alternatives to traditional fines and incarceration. If elected, what alternative sentencing methods would Mittelhauser use?
“The most obvious is drug court. That has been an overwhelming success in Pettis County as it has been everywhere that it has been tried,” he said. “There are some restorative justice aspects that can be used as part of traditional criminal justice dispositions. Things as simple as ordering restitution to be paid to the victim or the community.”
If elected, what changes would Mittelhauser make to the current court operating procedure?
“I am not running for judge because I want to make changes. The very few times that I have had an idea for doing something more efficiently, I have gone to Judge (Robert) Liston with that idea and he has been very receptive,” Mittelhauser said. “I don’t mean to say he has always agreed with me, but he has been very receptive. I don’t have a list of ideas that I want to suggest to change things, because I’ve already made those suggestions over the years.”
An officer in the Missouri Army National Guard for five years and former Pettis County Prosecutor, current State Rep. Stanley Cox has given his time to a laundry list of community organizations and will not only bring the experience of a lawyer, but also a lawmaker to the bench.
Cox finished his undergraduate studies at CMSU in 1971 and graduated law school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law in 1976. He also served in the U.S. Army from 1971-73 and the Missouri National Guard from 1974-79.
What does Cox feel is the biggest challenge the courts are facing at this time?
“This week is the implementation of electronic filing, but the challenge is a growth in civil cases over the last several years,” he said. “Certainly the quantity of divorces that are filed and those kinds of things that are filed. There has been continued growth over the past 15 to 20 years of the criminal docket. I think just the quantity of cases is the biggest challenge.”
Cox agrees with Mittelhauser and many attorneys across the nation in his belief that low-level drug offenders should be treated rather than incarcerated.
“We all have intuitive feeling about people who, it might be good for society to give them an alternative sentence,” Cox said. “I think drug court is an excellent example — these are people who are not drug dealers, they are possession only. I think it’s good for society to have a diversion program and if they are successful in that program, which includes intensive counseling, then I believe those people realize there is sobriety in the world.”
Another problem plaguing the citizens is petty theft. Each day the police blotter is filled with incidents of stealing under $150. If elected, how can he help end these petty thefts?
“But even though they are minor offenses there are implications to the average person, they are the victim of a theft. It makes you feel bad, violated, they have been the victim of a theft,” Cox said. “I think the criminal justice system is working well. It can deal with it. There are alternative punishments that I’m not opposed to in some contexts.”
What alternative sentencing methods would he use?
“The way the criminal justice system works in Pettis County is the recommendation and diversion into drug court is the only alternative sentencing that we have today. I think drug court has worked very well, in not only Pettis County, but also elsewhere,” he said. “The truth is the judge doesn’t have much effect on alternative sentencing. I suppose the court could set up a mandatory diversion of some sort, but I do not know of any judges that have done that without the support of the prosecutors.”
If elected, what changes would he make?
“This particular division, there are some challenges coming up with electronic filing, but I think Judge Liston has certainly done some good things here recently. For example, he has implemented a drug court for juvenile offenders,” Cox said.