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Stoddard County judge set to retire after 25 years on the bench
DEXTER, Mo. -- A country boy with an interest in the law and an ensuing career spanning more than four decades soon will retire after 25 years as a trial and appellate judge.
Having hit the mandatory retirement age of 70, Judge Robert Barney of Dexter will retire from the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, on Sept. 1.
"It will be a bittersweet departure after a combined total of 25 years on the trial and appellate bench," Barney said.
Barney was appointed to the appellate court Dec. 10, 1995, by Gov. Mel Carnahan. Before his appointment, Barney served eight and a half years as an associate circuit judge in Stoddard County, having been appointed to the bench there in 1987 by Gov. John Ashcroft.
"Never in my life did I dream I would be a judge," Barney said. "I did not set out to be a judge."
"I always had an interest in the law, obviously, as a lawyer, but avenues opened, and I found myself appointed first by John Ashcroft to the associate bench, then Gov. Carnahan appointed me to the appellate bench."
Barney was retained by the voters twice, including in 2010 for another 12-year term, so "technically, I would have 10 more years to go [but] the age requirement is age 70," he said. "It's got its mixed blessings.
"In some cases, it's very helpful. In other cases, you lose a person with a great deal of experience."
Barney believes he has written about 800 opinions.
Barney said he always has enjoyed reading the law, which he didn't have the time to do as a trial lawyer or trial judge.
"I did plenty of cases, both civil and criminal, but you're always in a hurry; you're always running," Barney said. "You don't have the sufficient time to read the law as you need, and frankly, it takes years of experience to understand the law."
Trial judges "tend to read the law" much more than they did as trial lawyers, but as an appellate judge, "you generally have the time that is necessary to dig into the books," Barney said.
Appellate judges, he said, also have more resources, including law clerks, to assist them in their research.
Barney said he never had that as a trial judge. "You sort of dig it all out yourself [and] get input from the attorneys," he said.
During his career, Barney said, he has been shown "kindness in my profession by my elders [as well as] a lot of kindness by the people in Stoddard and Dunklin County.
"Without people pushing, shoving and supporting you, you don't get anywhere. I couldn't be more pleased with the support I've got."
Reflecting back, Barney said, it is "astonishing what happened to a country boy from Bernie, Mo."
Barney described himself as having a "varied life," having represented Stoddard, Bollinger and Wayne counties in the Missouri House from 1983 to 1987.
"I was with the United States Department of State for three years; I worked in the government of Puerto Rico for a year and a half," Barney said. "I was a captain in the Army.
"You start doing all that, you turn around and you're 70 years of age. I don't feel like a retiree."
Barney said he is ready to do something else.
"I can always submit my name as a [senior] judge like Judge [Paul] McGhee, who is a splendid, even-tempered judge as I have ever met in my life," Barney said. "[McGhee] is very calm, very deliberate."
Barney described McGhee as his mentor.
"Judge McGhee and I served together in Stoddard County about six or seven years," Barney said. "He mentored me in many ways as I commenced my duties as an associate circuit judge.
With his impending retirement, Barney said, some want him to practice law with them, while others suggest he go into arbitration/mediation or government service.
"I'm going to sit back awhile and see what's available. ... I might just go fishing," he said.