The response was all but unanimous among four candidates seeking two Jasper County associate circuit judge positions.
Asked to cite the biggest obstacle to justice in Jasper County, three of the four said the most prevalent challenge is getting the needed time on a busy court docket.
The question from Brad Baker, president of the Southwest Pachyderm Club, brought similar answers from Nate Dally and Joe Hensley, both seeking the Republican nomination for associate circuit judge in Division 5, and John Nicholas, a candidate for the Division 4 judgeship.
Mike Roberts, also seeking the Division 4 post, said money can be an obstacle to justice, particularly if a client needs but cannot afford the services of an expert witness.
“The prosecutor’s office and even the public defender’s office will have a budget for that, but if you’re representing a private client, it can be a tough decision,” Roberts said.
The four attorneys were guest speakers last week at a meeting of the Pachyderm Club, a newly reorganized local Republican group.
Nicholas said time and space are the biggest obstacle because of the large caseload in Jasper County courts.
“There’s not enough judges, jurors or courtrooms for everyone to get the time they really need,” he said.
Dally agreed, citing time constraints “especially if you need more than two or three hours of a judge’s time.”
“It’s not uncommon for it to take two years before you get a decision on a criminal case or a child custody case,” he said.
Hensley also cited difficulties in getting trial time scheduled, but he said divorce caseloads have been addressed to some degree by a local court rule requiring mandatory mediation in cases involving child custody.
In addition to citing what they saw as obstacles to justice, the four candidates shared personal experiences that prompted them to go into law.
Hensley said his own experience after his parents separated when he was in high school prompted him to consider a law career.
“I learned what impact a judge could have on my future,” he said.
Roberts said his experience in law enforcement — 16 years with the Joplin Police Department — prompted him to go to law school.
Nicholas and Dally both cited family influences. Nicholas said his father was an attorney who took him to court. Dally’s father is David Dally, current presiding circuit judge and former county prosecutor. The younger Dally said he also was influenced by working as an intern with then-U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt in Washington.
All four attorneys are now in private practice; Dally and Nicholas also work as assistant prosecutors for the county. Roberts was an assistant prosecutor, and Hensley was an attorney for the Jasper County juvenile office.
Hensley said his time in the juvenile office prompted him to begin practicing adoption law. He said county residents would be surprised by the prevalence and severity of child abuse and neglect found by workers in the juvenile office.
“I wanted to work in building families instead of seeing them torn apart,” he said.
Division 4 operates in Carthage, Division 5 in Joplin. Both courts are busy and hear a wide variety of cases. The attorneys said they would operate the courts efficiently and fairly, relying on their court experience in trials and appeals.
The Division 4 judgeship currently is occupied by Joe Schoeberl, and the Division 5 post is held by Richard Copeland. Both are retiring. All four candidates are Republicans. Voters will be making their final choice in the August primary, since there are no other candidates on the ballot.
SUSAN REDDEN is a staff writer for the Globe. She can be reached at email@example.com or 417-627-7258. Follow her on Twitter @Susan_Redden.