Candidates for Phelps County Associate Circuit Judge-Division 1 and Probate on Tuesday, August 7.
(R) Matthew Crowell
(R) Kenneth G. Clayton
(R) James T. Crump
A little about you:
Matthew Crowell: For the past ten years, my wife, Sarah, and I have had the privilege to call Rolla and Phelps County home. Sarah is an art teacher at the Rolla Junior High and I am the District Defender for the six surrounding counties. We moved here for work, but quickly fell in love with the community. About five years ago, we helped my father move to Rolla. I grew up in Harrisonville, Missouri. After high school, I attended Truman State University as a Truman Leadership Scholar where I graduated with a degree in Political Science. I then attended UMKC-Law. In addition to attending law school, I volunteered as a long-term care ombudsman under the federal Older Americans Act. As an ombudsman, I advocated for residents of nursing homes to address complaints and fought for improvements in nursing home care. Coming from limited means, I worked at Sonic Drive-In as a cook and assistant manager to help pay for my schooling. I married my wife immediately after passing the Missouri bar and moved to be with her in St. Robert where she worked on base. Coincidentally, August 7, 2018, the date of the primary, will also be our 10-year anniversary. We lived in St. Robert only a brief period until we found our home in Rolla. Growing up, I spent my summers helping my grandparents on their farm. My grandfather taught me the value of hard work and instilled in me a love for the outdoors. Four years ago, my wife and I began a small hobby farm near St. James where we raise chickens, guinea fowl, bees and maintain a small orchard and garden. I have served as a Public Defender for nearly 10 years, the last 3 of which I have been your District Defender. I ran for city council four years ago and have since been elected twice. I have served on Rolla’s Finance Committee and currently serve on Rolla’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
Kenneth G. Clayton: Clayton started his career in law as a public defender where he represented many indigent people accused of crimes. He was elected as prosecuting attorney for Phelps County, where he served the victims of crimes and the community as a whole. He served as the acting prosecuting attorney for Pulaski County while the elected prosecuting attorney was deployed to the Middle East in service to our country. His career has been about serving the public, which he enjoys.
James T. Crump: Crump, 46, has lived in Rolla for 43 years. He graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia, in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting, and graduated with his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from Creighton University School of Law in 1997. He has been the Rolla Municipal Judge since 2011. He was Rolla City Prosecutor from 2000 to 2002 and has his own practice, Crump Law Offices, which he started in 1998 where he specializes in probate, estate planning and real estate. He volunteers and is a member of First Baptist Church of Rolla, and has served in various positions ministries – board of trustees member for nine years, taught adult and youth Sunday school for over ten years and has served in the Finance and Stewardship committee for six years – chairperson for four. He has volunteered for 12 years in the Property and Space Committee and has been the chairperson of the committee for nine years; he has volunteered in the Ushering Committee for over 13 years and has been the chairperson for 10 years. His volunteering also includes the Student Ministry Committee for three years and as chairperson for one year. His public service consists of the Phelps County Bar Association where he was the former two-term president and eight-term treasurer; Legal Services of Southern Missouri Board of Directors and as pro bono attorney from 2001; Meramec Area Legal Aid Board of Directors and as pro bono attorney from 1998 to 2001. He has always believed that everyone regardless of their socio-economic situation should have fair access to our legal system. He is married to, Leslie Huffman Crump, who has worked at Intercounty Electric Coop for over 23 years. He has three daughters, Allie Huffman, 21, Lexi Crump, 20, and Jesse Crump, 17. His parents are Al and Cherri Crump.
What makes you the best candidate for the position?
Matthew Crowell: I am the best candidate because I have fresh ideas about how to fight back against opioid and other drug abuse in our community. We have a serious drug problem in Phelps County. This problem has resulted in a grossly overcrowded jail that was built to house 160 inmates, but currently houses in excess of 220. What this means to you is that law enforcement is overtaxed and we are exposing our county to lawsuits. If that were not enough, we are remodeling our old jail at a cost of over $2 million. That money could go to schools, roads, or back in your pocket. A judge can and should be a crucial player in the fight against drug abuse. I am the only candidate who has not previously been a judge. My opponents could have worked to address these problems, but instead chose business as usual.
Kenneth G. Clayton: Because of my 23-year legal career, I have experience in every type of case that would be assigned to an Associate Circuit Judge, and I served as Associate Circuit Judge in Phelps County in 2013 and 2014. I have been the prosecuting attorney, am currently an assistant prosecuting attorney, have been a public defender, and have operated a successful private practice where I represent people in dissolution of marriage, paternity, estates, small claims, collection and many other types of civil actions. As prosecutor, I have tried murderers, child molesters and drug dealers, winning nearly all of my cases. I have gone to trial on many divorce cases, orders of protection and other civil cases. I am a certified Guardian ad Litem, representing the best interests of children in family court. I am the only candidate with this broad range of experience.
James T. Crump: During the past 20 years, I have represented clients in over 1,000 probate cases and over 1,000 estate planning clients in the last 20 years. By comparison, my two opponents combined don’t have the same experience. In addition, if our courts maintain its current distribution of cases, this Associate Circuit Judge will also preside over almost all of the traffic and misdemeanor cases filed in Phelps County. Voters have repeatedly endorsed my proven judicial experience by electing me five times as Rolla’s Municipal Judge, during which time I have presided over more than 18,000 traffic and misdemeanor cases. Finally, my more than 20 years of private practice have given me the experience to handle any other type of case that may be assigned to the Associate Circuit Division 1 and Probate Judge.
What are the 3 most pressing issues facing the court system you would be overseeing?
Matthew Crowell: The most pressing issue facing the court system is dealing with drug abuse and addiction. We must get to the root cause of the problem. Locking people up for nonviolent drug offenses does not address drug use. We need to combine shock jail time with other methods to give those with addiction a chance to reenter and become productive members of society. We do this through utilizing alternative treatment courts, mental health courts, veteran’s courts, etc., that specialize in treating the underlying cause of addiction. Many of our surrounding counties already utilize these programs and we should too. The next biggest issue is our overcrowded jails. We need to get people into treatment faster. We need to get people to overcome addiction so they do not reoffend and end back up in our jail. Finally, we need to eliminate the delay in getting wills and trusts through probate.
Kenneth G. Clayton: There are three interrelated issues that face the courts. First is the rampant use of controlled substances, including the opioid crisis, second is the lack of correctional resources, and third is the increased caseload that drugs cause generally. Taken together, these three issues put a severe strain on the courts and the entire criminal justice system, resulting in a public perception of ineffectiveness. People who use drugs get caught possessing them or committing other offenses to support their addiction. Caseload in the courts increases, and more offenders are subject to either incarceration or probation. The prisons are full and probation resources are strained nearly to the limit of funding. Upon violation of probation, if a sentence is executed, it is usually shortened by the DOC. A vicious cycle occurs, which results in the appearance that the courts are ineffective and in offenders not being afraid to commit new offenses.
James T. Crump: A. Court systems can easily get back logged when a judge is not timely nor makes decisions. In the 5 terms voters have elected me Rolla Municipal Judge, I have presided over 18,000+ cases, rendered decisions in a timely manner. If elected I will continue to do so. B. There is an increase in the number of people without families who need support systems to help them. I have more than 20 years’ experience, trusted by over 2,000 clients, in guardianships, decedent estates and estate planning that will be essential for this position. C. Opioid addiction impacts our society and affects people’s interactions and behaviors. No addict will change their behavior until they become clean and sober. In select cases where a person genuinely seeks recovery from addiction, the courts, through sentencing options, can provide the opportunity and support and strongest motivation, to seek the treatment and recovery that person needs.
Should elected seats for judges be subject to term limits? Please explain your position?
Matthew Crowell: It is unfortunate that politics should play any role in the selection of judges. All judges should strictly adhere first to the Constitution and Bill of Rights and then to laws created by the legislature. We should not select judges based on popularity contests or who can spend the most money on campaign signs, but rather on who is most qualified for the position, who will follow the law and who will be fair and impartial. If we elect judges with that in mind, then we do not need term limits, because we will be getting the best judge possible. I am a defense attorney, but I have received the endorsement of our local law enforcement over my opponents because I have always followed the law and been respectful of all parties, while maintaining the strongest advocacy for all my clients.
Kenneth G. Clayton: No. Elected judges serve either a 4-year or 6-year term, depending on whether they are an Associate Circuit Judge or Circuit Judge, respectively, and have a mandatory retirement at age 70. Generally, by the time an attorney gains enough experience to be elected as a judge, they are older and further into their career. The election process, through knowledgeable voters, can weed out the unqualified or poorly performing judges, probably before term limits would, and can retain judges who perform well.
James T. Crump: Incumbents serve at the discretion of voters. If voters don’t like how someone is performing in office, voters possess the power to limit an incumbent’s number of terms in office by not re-electing him or her.
What would be the first thing you would change if elected?
Matthew Crowell: Judge Ronald White has been one of my mentors. Although extremely tough, I believe him to be a very efficient and fair judge. I will continue this tradition of efficiency and fairness. Additionally, I have already spoken with our prosecutor and the Russell House about doing more to address some of the problems in our criminal justice system. Our prosecutor would like to implement a diversionary drug program that specifically deals with non-violent offenders to help give these people the tools to become productive members of society. The Russell House would like to create a domestic violence court to help deal with the terrible cycle of abuse that many people face. I am a strong proponent of these efforts. I would work with all interested parties to create these programs and to develop the other alternative treatment programs that will begin to turn the tide on crime in our community.
Kenneth G. Clayton: A domestic violence component should be added to the Phelps County Treatment Court. Domestic violence is a prevalent issue in the criminal justice system and some of the offenders who are charged and found guilty of such offenses could benefit from some intervention into their lives to provide education, counseling or other services to prevent future episodes of domestic violence. However, this assumes that the offense was not of such severity to require a sentence of incarceration. People should be accountable for their actions, but it is important to have rehabilitative options available. Domestic violence offenders can, if they choose, benefit from anger management and counseling. Should they participate in a domestic violence treatment court and choose not to take advantage of available services, sanctions can be applied swiftly.
James T. Crump: I would want to first spend some time in the office to learn the systems before determining if anything needs to be changed.
What should voters know about you in order to make an informed decision?
Matthew Crowell: I believe people would agree that the most important characteristics for a judge is that he or she knows the law and is fair. One of the things I am most proud about is the fact that I have had the privilege to represent the poor people in our community for nearly 10 years. During this time, I have gone up against many police officers in defense of my clients. I am a career public servant, but have never been a prosecutor and have never been a judge, yet, our local law enforcement chose me as their candidate. Our law enforcement know that, despite us being adversaries, I am fair, respectful and a more than worthy opponent, who knows the law and expects everyone to follow it. As judge, I will continue this tradition of being fair to everyone and will strictly adhere to the Constitution and the law.
Kenneth G. Clayton: My family has lived in Phelps County for more than 35 years. My wife, Carla, and I have been married for 21 years. We have three children and are members of Greentree Christian Church. When I graduated from law school, I chose to come back to my hometown to work and raise my family. We live on a farm and raise a few cattle. I am and have been heavily involved in the community and enjoy giving back. I am a Rolla Lion, 2021 Carnival Committee Chairman, have taught criminal justice and business law at Columbia College and Drury University, have coached U5 and U7 soccer, am a referee for Upward basketball and serve on the board of Phelps County Industrial Solutions (formerly the Rolla Area Sheltered Workshop). Since 2015, I have mentored the RHS Constitution Project legal team, and last fall, we won the state championship.
James T. Crump: The only type of case that this judge MUST be able to do by law is probate. My more than 20 years of experience in probate and estate planning makes me the most qualified candidate to handle the responsibility of any probate case. By comparison, my opponents have limited to no experience in probate and estate cases. Every judge has the duty to be impartial, objective and independent. The best judges consistently apply the rule of law, treat everyone with dignity and respect and issue fair and timely rulings. These are all traits the voters have recognized in me by electing me five times as Rolla’s municipal judge. I ask for your vote again, this time in the Republican primary election for Associate Circuit Judge for Associate Division I and Probate Division on August 7th.