You previously worked in private practice for Twibell, Johnson, Johnson & Garrison before transitioning in 2010 to assistant public defender for the state. Why did you make the switch?
I had done public service early on in my career – I worked as an assistant prosecutor. It was a really good transition back into public service. I really feel gratified by what I was able to do for people. It was rewarding to know you could help people and help change their lives.
And now you’ve moved to the bench from public defense. What’s the biggest difference?
I just started this week, so there is quite a bit of a transition. You think about the fact that before, as an adversary in front of the judge, basically (the judges) are the ones who start speaking. Now I have to think about what I’m going to say when I get on the bench – how do I start this? What direction do I go?
How will your background impact the way you operate on the bench?
I think having been both prosecutor and public defender and a defense attorney enables me to look at the situation from both sides and know where each side is coming from.
What does it look like going from handling state cases to now municipal?
You kind of see a different type of people in the municipal court than in the state court. Obviously with state courts, you have more crimes. What is in the municipal court, you have things that may seem to be minor, but they can be just as important to the people who are involved in the cases. For example, if someone has a dog that continuously gets out, and the neighborhood is having an issue with the dog , and children are afraid of the dog, that’s a really important issue to that particular block. So even though it may seem less serious, it really isn’t less serious to look at the issues you face in the community.
Are you interested in implementing specialized courts – like veterans court or drug court – on the municipal level in the future?
When Judge Becky Borthwick was here in municipal court, she started homeless court. Homeless court is still in existence, but it is a smaller program. In the future, I’d like to look forward to getting involved in something similar.
Coming from a background as a public defender, obviously a lot of my clients, or all of my clients, were indigent. So, I know what a lot of those people face and the difficulties they face – even just taking the bus across the city. We can jump in our car and be somewhere in 10-15 minutes. But they may have to take the bus – that could take an hour to get from where they live to the transit station, and then another hour to get where they are going. So it can be an all-day event for them to even apply for services. I know a lot of people we are going to see in municipal court have some of those same issues. (I) want to see those people get assistance (because I) understand how difficult it is for those defendants to, one, even get to court and, two, complete all the requirements for their probations or conditions of whatever their plea is.
What types of cases will you handle?
As a municipal judge, you primarily handle ordinance violations, including traffic tickets. And then you also handle other cases that could have been charged in associate court – charges like trespassing, stealing and also assault. There are, of course, our ordinances related to animals.
Wendy Garrison may be reached at (417) 864-1890.
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