Disturbing news about Cole County court
The Kansas City Star
Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich today released a critical audit of the civil and criminal divisions of the Cole County Circuit Court. Among other problems, he found nearly $15,000 in missing funds. The Jefferson City News Tribune reports that the court clerk has already resigned.
This audit has been in the works for months, and so we should stipulate that it is only coincidence that Schweich released it two days after the court’s presiding judge, Patricia Joyce, issued an opinion that was severely critical of the fiscal estimate Schweich worked up for a high-profile initiative petition being sought by multimillionaire Rex Sinquefield.
The events this week spotlight the major role that the Cole County Court plays in Missouri government. Jefferson City is in Cole County, so challenges to legislative action usually begin in the circuit court there.
Missouri is a big initiative petition state, and Cole County judges are the first stop when someone wants to block a petition by challenging a ballot summary or fiscal note. The judges are also the first to review challenges to the constitutionality of laws passed by the Missouri legislature.
Unlike in Jackson County, St. Louis and Greene County (the home of Springfield), Cole County has opted to elect its judges, rather than participate in the non-partisan judicial selection system. So we have the odd situation of judges elected only by Cole County voters having great sway over what happens to Missouri law and public policy.
Given that backdrop, it’s disconcerting to see that the state auditor has rated the court’s administrative performance as “poor.”