The cases Patricia Sullivan prosecutes might not grab headlines, but their outcomes are vital to her community.
For 21 years, Sullivan has been the assistant prosecuting attorney for Springfield, where her cases focus on violations including traffic infractions, DWIs, peace disturbances, nuisance properties or simple assaults.
“What I really like about it is that we’re trying to resolve problems and basically have a good quality of life for people in in our community,” Sullivan said. “It’s nice to go to work and feel like you’re doing something where there’s a purpose and giving back to place you grew up in.”
Sullivan began considering a legal career because she was interested in public service. She enrolled in law school at University of Missouri-Kansas City after completing her undergraduate studies in English at Indiana University. Before she earned her law degree in 1995, she clerked for a solo practitioner who advised her that serving as a prosecutor or public defender could be a good fit for her skills.
Even though she had been interested in working as a prosecutor, Sullivan’s first job out of law school was as a public defender. Learning defendants’ stories and the challenges they were dealing with, such as substance abuse, helped to inform her work as a prosecutor.
“It gave me a chance to get to know defendants from that side of things and see some of the issues that they deal with, and I think that’s good as a prosecutor,” Sullivan said. “I think I’ve been able to look at what some of the underlying issues are, and rather than look strictly at punishment try to resolve problems.”
In municipal court, prosecutors are “not dealing with murders or really high-profile crimes,” but they’re no less satisfying to resolve, Sullivan said.
“We’re dealing with trying to find solutions to improve our community,” she said. “I like to think that by handling what we’re handling, we’re discouraging bigger crimes and also helping people to address their issues.”
Sullivan suggests that prospective attorneys network with as many people in the field as possible in order to find the right path for their career. Visiting with mentors on the job and doing internships can help a law student to determine which aspect of the law offers the right fit, Sullivan said. She also advises students to hone public-speaking skills, which she did by teaching an American Government class.
“I found that very difficult when I was in school,” Sullivan said. “My mentor suggested teaching at a community college to get used to public speaking, and that was some of the best advice I’ve ever been given professionally.”
She now lives outside of Springfield in the town of Willard, with her husband, Jeff Grantham, a nurse. Although they travel extensively — Ireland, Italy and Turkey have been recent destinations — Sullivan said she plans to stay rooted in the Springfield area.
“We have the best of both worlds,” she said. “We have city-type things such as cultural events, we have good restaurants, and we have shopping but at same time, Springfield really has a small-town feel to it… [it’s] just a really friendly, good place to live.”