At least two very familiar names hope to succeed 10tb Circuit Judge Robert M. Clayton II.


   At least two very familiar names hope to succeed 10tb Circuit Judge Robert M. Clayton II.
   Though the next election for the six-year term isn’t until November 2012, state law will compel the popular, erudite Democrat judge to retire when he turns 70 on Christmas Eve this year.
   Robert M. Clayton III, one of the judge’s sons, and State Rep. Rachel Bringer of Palmyra, want the job.
   Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon likely will make an appointment to fill the unexpired term.
   Clayton III and Bringer have impressive resumes and many similarities.
   Both are young, both are Democrats and each served four two-year terms in the Missouri House. They got their law degrees from the University of Missouri, albeit at different campuses.
   Clayton, 41, was appointed to the Missouri Public Service Commission in 2003, and was named chairman by Nixon in 2009. He has worked with other nations on energy regulation issues.
   Clayton said the experiences have given him “solid preparation” to succeed his father on the bench.
   Bringer, 38, is a former assistant Marion County prosecutor and clerked in Judge James R. Reinhard’s Missouri Court of Appeals office. She was nominated earlier this year for an opening on the appellate court. Another candidate eventually got the job.
   Bringer said she remains as “committed to this area” as ever and that she “shares the values of Northeast Missouri.”
   Despite Democrat dominance of the seat, Republican leader Mary Lou Callicott said the GOP “will certainly consider” running a candidate.
   “We don’t want to pass it up,” said Callicott, Marion County GOP chairwoman.

Big shoes
   So far, Nixon has remained neutral on a selection.
   “Gov. Nixon appreciates Judge Clayton’s many years of service to Missouri’s judicial system and to the community,” said Nixon spokesman Sam Murphey. “When a vacancy for that position becomes available, Gov. Nixon will undertake a search for a qualified replacement.”
   The 10th Circuit covers Marion, Monroe and Ralls counties, and many agree that Clayton’s replacement will have huge shoes to fill.
   The judge, a former law partner and still a good friend of Missouri Supreme Court Justice and Hannibal native Mary Rhodes Russell, has a well-earned reputation for fairness and solid grasp of legal issues.
   He is sharp-witted and well-versed, say those who have practiced in front of him. He can crack a joke with the best comedian, but also is stern and unwavering when the law has been violated.
   Clayton has an eerie ability to recall the tiniest details of cases or defendants that come before him more than once, and does it without looking at the files.
   He doesn’t suffer fools, but is an extremely patient listener who will gently push verbose lawyers back to the issue at hand with a sentence that begins with “All right…” or “OK…”
   Clayton is a young attorney’s best friend, often going out of his way to guide novices when they need a helping hand. And several observers say his approach has benefited the associate judges in the circuit – John J. Jackson, Michael P. Wilson and David C. Mobley.
   David Clayton, a public defender who works out of Hannibal but does not practice in front of his father, called the judge “firm but fair.”
   “He brought his professional style of justice home when we were children,” David Clayton recalled with a laugh.
   Palmyra attorney Russ Kruse, who has worked with Bringer and tried cases in front of Clayton, said the judge is very principled.
   “I think he’s been real conscientious in his work,” Kruse said.
   Hannibal attorney John Hark, a former law partner of Robert Clayton III, said the judge has been “good about striking a balance” between getting cases resolved and still giving defendants their right to be heard.
   In some places, Hark said, cases get backed up so far that justice sometimes is not administered until a couple of years after a case is filed or an arrest is made.
   That rarely happens in the 10th Circuit, which was recognized last year by the state for its efficiency in handling cases and for holding timely hearings in child abuse matters.
   Typical of his character, Clayton shined the spotlight on others.
   “This is not an award I earned,” the judge said at the time. “It is an award all the judges and clerks and the attorneys of the circuit have earned. All of us in the court system appreciate your support.”
   “I don’t think people in this area know how lucky they are,” said Hark, who has practiced in front of Clayton and has worked with Clayton III and Bringer.

‘Good run’
   Records show the judge never faced an election opponent, and those who know him say it was because of his abiding integrity.
   Clayton has been silent about his replacement, preferring to focus upon his work and schedule cases almost until the end.
   But he has known Nixon, a former state attorney general, for years. And Clayton said he plans to “put my two cents in when the time comes,” although he isn’t sure how much weight the opinion would carry.
   “I can’t control anybody but me,” he said with a laugh.
   After turning 70, Clayton’s predecessor, Judge Ronald R. McKenzie, was one of several dozen senior judges in the state who heard civil and criminal cases in places where there was a backlog or an appointment has not been made.
   Clayton said he would be interested in a senior judge appointment and would “work for nothing for a while.”
   However, even if he never puts on a robe again, Clayton considers himself fortunate to have done something he loves.
   “I’ve had a good run,” he said. “I’ve had a great career, on the bench and off. I look forward to the future.”