Pat Joyce has been grinding out decisions on the Cole County Circuit Court for 20 years. A Democrat, she is 59, married with five children and a member of the Roman Catholic church.
But that’s not the image you get from television ads that began airing this week on a Jefferson City television station, courtesy of the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee.
In the ad, entitled “Groovy,” Joyce’s picture is surrounded by brightly colored tie-dyed walls, next to a couple with wild hair and sunglasses. A voice says: “Meet liberal judge Pat Joyce. Radical environmentalists think Joyce is so groovy. And the lawyers funding her campaign do, too.”
A footnote refers to a single decision six years ago, when Joyce barred a large hog farm from operating near the Arrow Rock, Mo., historic site.
The GOP leadership committee is spending $100,000 on the attack ads and sent another $100,000 directly to her Republican opponent, Jefferson City Prosecutor Brian Stumpe. Before the check arrived, his campaign was $12,976 in debt and had $58.47 in the bank. Now, he is blanketing the airwaves with ads touting himself as the county’s next judge.
The blitz has cast a spotlight on the little court with the outsized influence in Missouri, as well as the state’s campaign finance law, which allows unlimited contributions with murky disclosure.
“I pretty clearly think it’s an attempt to intimidate the judges in the county courthouse,” said Chuck Hatfield, an area lawyer and a Democrat. “The message that’s coming through is, if you’ve ruled the way you think you ought to rule and it is contrary to some interest groups, they’re going to take you out.”
Cole County judges don’t just handle run-of-the-mill civil and criminal cases. Because Jefferson City is the seat of state government, they rule on the constitutionality of state laws and regulations, political corruption cases involving high-ranking officials and fights over initiative petition ballot wording, for example.
And Joyce has issued some high-profile rulings over the years, such as one in 2012 rewriting the ballot description for St. Louis mega-donor Rex Sinquefield’s plan to overhaul Missouri’s taxes, in effect killing his effort to put it on the ballot that year.
(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 10/15/14 )