Associate circuit judges hear several classes of cases including criminal (misdemeanor and felony), civil (small claims, municipal ordinance, unlawful possession) and probate (administration of estates, will enforcement, and equitable distribution of assets for persons who die without a valid will).
In the 26th Judicial Circuit there are four associate circuit judges, each assigned a division. The offices of associate circuit judge for the third and fourth divisions are up for election this year. In Division 3, four Republicans square off in the August primary. The winner faces Democratic incumbent Richelle Christensen in the November election. The job of associate circuit judge for Division 4 will be decided in the August primary because there are no Democrats running. In Division 4, incumbent Bruce Colyer faces challenger Ryan Martin in a Republican August primary that will decide the election.
The candidates in the August primary spoke at the Camdenton Area Chamber of Commerce quarterly breakfast in a candidate forum sponsored by Missouri Ozarks Community Action. Each candidate had two minutes to address the crowd.

David Sallee (R)
“I’m a fifth generation Camden countian so I’m glad to be back home and have this opportunity to be able to serve each and every one of you,” Sallee said.
While every candidate in the race has experience as an attorney, Sallee is the only candidate on the ballot who has been through seminary.
“I think that’s one of the things that sets me apart. Because of my background, you will find that I have an acute understanding of how to discern information, how to listen to people, listen to their stories completely, and then decide from that between the facts or evidence given what the truth is, what the facts are in that particular case. I have a unique ability to do that,” Sallee said.
In his brief address, Sallee spoke of his family’s roots in the lake area.
“I have a legacy of community service that reaches back several generations to the county. I would like to bring that home to you again,” Sallee said.

Roger Gibbons (R)
“I think we should select our judges based on experience, the same way we hire people to work for us in our everyday lives. If you have a legal matter, I suspect that most of you would want a lawyer that’s had experience and knowledge in handling those type of cases. I think it’s my experience and background that sets me apart from my other opponents,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons maintained a private practice for more than 18 years, has represented plaintiffs and defendants in civil and criminal cases, and represented clients in probate court. He stressed experience as his main advantage.
“As a lawyer, I have tried every type of case that I would here if I was elected associate circuit judge. I’ve represented clients before the Missouri Court of Appeals, the Missouri Supreme Court, and I know from my years of experience in the courtroom the importance of judicial decision making and how it can affect people’s lives,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons also noted that judges must be consistent and render decisions in a timely manner.

Aaron Koeppen (R)
Koeppen currently serves as an assistant Camden County Prosecutor.
“Over the last four years, I have tried more jury trials, possibly, than any of my opponents here in Camden County,” Koeppen said. “I have spent more hours in the courtroom observing procedures firsthand and observing how judges do their job firsthand, possibly than many attorneys do in a lifetime.”
The father of four stated that he is invested in the area.
“I know that my dedication to this county through my family is what sets me apart from my opponents,” Koeppen said.
Koeppen compared the quality of his experience in law to the quantity of his opponents’ experience.
“I believe that experience is very important, and I do have a lot of experience. I’m not going to say I have more experience than Roger Gibbons, or Mr. Smith, or maybe even Mr. Sallee. They have been practicing a long time, but for a last four years, over the last six years that I have been practicing law—the quality of experience, what I’ve done with the time that I’ve been given is arguably more than a lot of attorneys accomplish in a lifetime,” Koeppen said.

Gary L. Smith (R)
“I look at this as sort of a job interview,” Smith said of the election and campaign process.
Smith has been an assistant prosecutor, city attorney, and operator of a private practice. He is a 30-year veteran of law.
“I have been representing people. I have been representing mothers and fathers and children. I have handled accounts for businesses. I have handled accounts for individuals. I have done the probate court. I have done all of those things,” Smith said.
Smith touched on his probate court experience in his address.
“In order to do domestic relations law, which is a major portion of this job, you have to have done that. You have to have concentrated on it, you have to have worked on it, and you have to know it,” Smith said.
Smith stressed that experience is needed to be an associate circuit judge in probate, civil, and criminal courts. He is a member of the Kids Harbor Board of Directors, which oversees child abuse reporting and advocacy in ten Missouri counties.
“I have a good track record. A lot of my biggest supporters are my clients and people that I have worked with,” Smith said.

Richelle Christensen (D)
• current office holder
Gov. Nixon appointed Judge Richelle Christensen to serve out 2010 as associate circuit judge following the death of Judge Jack Bennett.
I’m the only candidate who has ever been an elected official before. I was an elected prosecutor (in Maries County) previously, but I think it relates to experience.
The most important thing is that I have the job right now, and I will have it up until, obviously, through November. So I’m really the most qualified because I’m the one who is doing it right now.
Christensen operated her own practice in addition to serving as a county prosecutor and pointed our experience in criminal and civil law. Christensen has been the Maries County prosecutor, an assistant prosecutor in Camden County, and a public defender. She says she has adjusted well since assuming her duties as Associate Circuit Judge for Division 3 in May.
“I agree with the other candidates when they say it is about being fair, about listening to people, and about having timely decisions, and not making people wait for the decision that court has to make,” Christensen said.
Christensen appears unopposed on Democratic primary ballots in August. In November, she will face the winner of the Republican primary that features Sallee, Gibbons, Koeppen and Smith.