By Alan Burdziak
Dozens of members of the Mid-Missouri legal community helped fill the Boone County Courthouse’s ceremonial courtroom Monday as Jeff Harris was sworn in as the newest circuit judge.
Harris, 51, takes over the Division II general criminal and civil dockets from Gary Oxenhandler, who retired from the bench last week on his 70th birthday, as required by law. Harris is just the third Division II judge in the history of Missouri’s 13th Judicial Circuit, which is composed of Boone and Callaway counties. Frank Conley was the first, becoming circuit judge in 1970 until his retirement in 2002, when Oxenhandler succeeded him.
The other 11 Boone County judges joined dozens of lawyers, former judges, politicians and Harris’ family as Presiding Judge Christine Carpenter conducted the ceremony.
“We don’t get to do this very often, bringing in a new judge,” Carpenter said, noting that just a few months ago Casey Clevenger was sworn in as the circuit’s drug court commissioner, a post that is akin to a judgeship.
As a circuit judge, Harris’s salary will be $146,803 annually. He will face Boone County Associate Circuit Judge Deborah Daniels in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary for a full six-year term. No Republican has filed to run for the seat.
After Harris put on the robe, he thanked his family and friends and others who have supported him. He said he will strive to be fair, flexible and efficient.
“Fairness is obviously something that is important to maintaining the integrity of our judicial system,” he said.
Being flexible is important as well, he said, because every case is different and they must be decided one at a time.
Efficiency is key to keeping dockets moving and making sure the system is not coming to a halt, he said. He quipped several times that his methods to approach the job are “self-evident,” including the last one he spoke of: judging.
“What it ultimately boils down to as a judge is to make the best choice you can make given the facts and law of the case,” Harris said.
Gov. Jay Nixon in November chose Harris to finish Oxenhandler’s term. A Columbia native, Harris graduated from Vanderbilt University before he got his law degree from Cornell Law School. He clerked for U.S. Judge William Barbour Jr. in Mississippi before he worked at the Bryan Cave law firm in Kansas City from 1992 to 2001. Harris then worked for Nixon when Nixon was Missouri attorney general in 2001 and 2002 before he served in the Missouri House from 2003 to 2009. From 2009 until this year, Harris was Nixon’s policy director.