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Public Service: Deborah Daniels

Retired Associate Circuit Judge, Boone County

As an associate circuit judge, Deborah Daniels was not content to merely rule from the bench.

Her 11-year tenure was marked by her active presence on statewide committees, working as a judicial college instructor and engaging in continuing education.

“I always felt the need to get involved in committee work and education and just not sit on the bench,” she said.daniels-deborah

The Fayette native, now based in Columbia, retired from the bench March 1. She said she now hopes to find new avenues to contribute to the legal community and spend more time with her family.

After graduating from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1977, Daniels clerked for Missouri Supreme Court Judge Fred Henley.

Through her career, she has served as director of research for the Missouri Supreme Court, an assistant prosecutor for Boone County and chief counsel for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office criminal division.

Daniels was elected to her first term as judge in 2006. She was reelected in 2010 and 2014. As an associate circuit judge, Daniels oversaw the circuit’s probate division and general civil and criminal dockets.

One of her legacies is advancing the use of technology in the courtroom.

Under her leadership, the 13th Circuit adopted the use of video-conferencing for involuntary civil-commitment hearings, which fell under her purview as probate judge. She said the circuit is unique in that it includes the Missouri Psychiatric Center, which serves a large swath of Missouri.

“We drew from 32 counties in that docket,” she said. “So the patients were being transported in handcuffs out of the health care environment, and the sheriff’s department was utilizing scarce law enforcement resources to provide a transport service.”

She said the experience was “very disconcerting” for patients, especially for elderly patients whose physical illnesses may have triggered mental-health issues. It also created a hardship for medical staff to leave the hospital to testify in person at the courthouse.

Through her involvement in the Advance Science and Technology Adjudication Resource, a science- and technology-education program for judges, she became aware of a probate commissioner in St. Louis using the technology in his courtroom, which sparked the idea for her circuit. She said the program met with great success.

“It wasn’t so much that it was a novel idea. It’s just that I really took advantage of it,” she said. “The only person who didn’t benefit from it was the judge.”

In 2009, Daniels received the ASTAR award for completing 120 hours of court-related science and technology training, and was inducted as an ASTAR fellow. Daniels said becoming involved in the program helped her to be a better judge.

“It was an extreme benefit with regard to being able to at least more intelligently evaluate a claim that something was an expert opinion and something was scientific,” she said.

Daniels also has helped to improve the technology used by judges and has served on the Missouri Supreme Court’s automation committee since 2010. Still, she said she hopes that judges and lawyers don’t lose sight of their human connection with the people they serve as they increasingly rely more on technology.

“The problem is the court system survives and thrives when people believe that they come into the court system and it’s fair, and to the extent that our court system does not instill in people a sense of fairness, then we’re all in trouble,” she said.