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WJA 2022: Tiffany Yarnell

Tiffany YarnellTaney County Circuit Court

Taney County Associate Circuit Judge Tiffany Yarnell envisioned working as an FBI agent as early as the seventh grade. After graduating with honors with a degree in criminal justice administration from Columbia College, she had what she describes as an epiphany. She realized that a career in law enforcement would likely conflict with her dreams of leading a somewhat quiet country life centered on family.

After a quick pivot, Yarnell earned a law degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and spent a large chunk of her career prosecuting criminals instead of catching them. Then, in January of 2017, Governor Jay Nixon appointed Yarnell to the 46th Judicial Circuit, where 90-95% of her caseload consists of criminal assignments.

She credits an ability to discern, evaluate a situation objectively, and not take things personally as the traits that make her an effective jurist. “I have the ability to read people and evaluate a situation and see it for what it is and then make a decision based on that fair assessment,” says Yarnell. “I know that’s not my job to make everyone happy. And so I just have to make the decision based on the information that I have and what I know to be the law and the rules, and I’m okay with that.”

While she admits that drug-related crimes are not unique to Taney County, Yarnell explained that most of her cases are drug-related. As a result, she would like to see the lion’s share of Missouri’s $468 million opioid settlement funds allocated for drug treatment services. “There is a desperate need for more treatment beds to help people. I have been in legal practice for 17 years, and drugs have always been a problem,” she added.

Judge Yarnell uses her role as an opportunity to give the defendants tools to move their lives in a positive direction. “It’s very humbling to see someone get things accomplished and be productive,” she said. “If they are convicted and found guilty, they most likely won’t be in prison the rest of their lives. Instead, they will be part of community and society, and we are helping get them in a better position, so they aren’t a burden to their community and their family and friends.”

With a heavy criminal caseload, Yarnell finds the greatest challenge of her work is finding ways not to bring work home. “I mean not my physical work; I mean like not stressing while I am home. I may have heard some possibly emotional evidence, and I have to separate that when I need to be blocking that time, enjoying my kids and family.”

Yarnell’s favorite way to decompress is on the family farm, where she and her husband raise bucking bulls, build fences, and tend to chores. “I love nothing more than on a cool fall day to clean up and burn brush, enjoy the fresh air, and see God’s beauty,” said Yarnell. “Honestly, it’s my therapy.”

Women's Justice Awards 2022