Of all the trial courts in Missouri, none is in a position to make decisions that affect so many Missourians as the Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City, Mo.
Because it's the circuit where the state capital is located, lawsuits challenging state laws and other matters of state government are routinely filed in the Cole County court. In many instances, the decisions of the trial judges are appealed to higher courts, but the foundation of almost every legal challenge involving state government is laid in the circuit courtrooms in Jefferson City.
Currently, the Cole County Circuit Court has two circuit judges and two associate circuit judges. Both circuit judges and one of the associate circuit judges have Southeast Missouri roots.
(Southeast Missourians also serve on higher state courts and at the federal level. Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. of Cape Girardeau is the current chief justice. Supreme Court Judge Duane Benton, who is a former chief justice, also has Cape Girardeau connections. Stanley A. Grimm of Cape Girardeau is a retired judge of the Court of Appeals, Eastern District of Missouri.)
Byron Kinder, who was born in Cape Girardeau, is the longest serving judge on the Cole County bench. He plans to retire at the end of the year but will still be available to preside over some cases as a senior judge. Thomas J. Brown III was born in Charleston, Mo., and has served on the bench in Cole County since 1987. And Patricia S. Joyce, also born in Cape Girardeau, has been an associate circuit judge in Cole County since 1995.
Throughout the years Kinder and Brown have been judges, they have had to deal with complex issues pertaining to some of the finer points of state government ranging from the validity of tax rebates to the constitutionality of state laws. Soon, Joyce's post will become a full circuit judgeship, and she too will be facing similar issues that affect residents throughout the state.
The judges claim no special insight or wisdom as a result of the Southeast Missouri connections, but it is both unusual and interesting to find such a concentration of judges with so much in common in their backgrounds.
The legal careers of Kinder, Brown and Joyce also have similarities, including the fact that both Kinder and Brown served as Cole County's prosecuting attorney, while Joyce spent about 10 years as assistant prosecutor in the same county.
Southeast Missouri has for many years been blessed, for the most part, with top-notch legal talent presiding in its county courtrooms. The three Cole County judges, plus all the others who have distinguished themselves in Southeast Missouri and beyond, are a credit to the values and beliefs that are predominant in this part of the state.