Miller County incumbent Attorney Benjamin Winfrey and opponent Robert Seek will be seeking the public vote August 7. They took the time to answer a number of questions presented by the Lake Sun about the position.

Miller County incumbent Attorney Benjamin Winfrey and opponent Robert Seek will be seeking the public vote August 7. They took the time to answer a number of questions presented by the Lake Sun about the position.

Benjamin Winfrey (Incumbent)

Biography

My family has lived in Miller County for over 100 years. I was raised on my family’s farm near Brumley and attended school from kindergarten to graduation in Iberia. As a young boy, I worked summer vacations away on farms and at different Lake businesses such as the Lodge of Four Seasons and Walmart. I graduated college from Mizzou and law school at Washington University in Saint Louis. After law school, I moved to Kansas City where I worked in a big law firm and practiced commercial litigation. I then left private practice and worked as a prosecutor for the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office where I focused on violent crimes and cold cases. In 2012, I moved home to Brumley to be closer to family. In 2014 I was elected Miller County Prosecutor.

Question 1) 

Why are you running for reelection?

I am running for reelection because Miller County is my home and I love our community. When I was a young boy I was almost killed in a gun accident that left me paralyzed. Despite my injury, the Miller County community supported me in my recovery. I am the man I am today because of the kindness and generosity of this county’s citizens. I will always owe Miller County a debt of gratitude. In my time as Prosecutor, we have made progress in resolving Miller County’s problems, but I understand we have work left to do to make this a better community. We must continue tackling the drug epidemic facing Mid-Missouri and there are serious Murder charges which I helped investigate and charge that must be brought to trial. I hope for the opportunity to continue working hard on behalf of Miller County citizens for a future.

Question 2) 

What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing the Miller County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office? 

The most pressing issue facing the Prosecutor’s Office and the Miller County community is the influx of illegal drugs, and especially methamphetamine. A large majority of the felony charges I prosecute are drug-related. Drug users not only commit crimes by possessing or dealing illegal drugs, but they also commit other crimes to fund their habit or because they are under the influence of drugs. For instance, a drug addict will commit theft and burglary to pay for their drugs, and they may also criminally neglect their children or assault others while they are on drugs.

Unfortunately, this influx of illegal drugs has not only damaged our community, but it has outpaced the resources available to Miller County law enforcement. For example, in 2017 the Prosecutor’s Office filed more felony charges than any other county in the Lake area, including larger counties like Camden County. However, the Miller County Prosecutor’s Office has less than 1/3 of the staff of the Camden County Prosecutor and even less staff than smaller neighboring counties. As such, we must to fight more crime with less resources.

Question 3)  What is a reasonable amount of time for cases to make their way through the court system? 

I am proud to say that in 2017, we finished as many cases as we started in Miller County. A reasonable time required to finish cases depends on the type of case and the severity of the charge. For instance, a speeding ticket that does not involve complex legal facts should be resolved in a matter of months. A more serious charge such as a felony drug possession may take longer because courts grant defendants considerable time to hire a lawyer or evidence must be produced by the crime lab for court.

As Prosecutor, I move cases forward by being prepared for court. We must always have witnesses identified and evidence present for trial. With thousands of cases, however, we also help move some matters along by negotiating deals that win guilty pleas and serve our victims with closure.

Some cases, though, are so serious and the stakes are so high that I must fight for years in the criminal justice system to earn justice for victims and our community.

Question 4)  What are your priorities?

As Prosecuting Attorney, I have three main priorities. My first priority as Prosecutor is to protect the rights of crime victims. I am most concerned with crimes involving children and I have won over 250 years in prison for defendants guilty of hurting children. But I also prosecute other types of crimes with victims, such as burglary and theft. In my three years as Prosecutor, we have collected over $300,000.00 in restitution for crime victims and over $100,000,00 for victims of bad check cases.

My second priority is battling illegal drugs, especially methamphetamine. Since I took office, we filed hundreds of cases that resulted in over 500 felony arrest warrants and 500 years in prison time for drug-related cases. I also helped start Miller County’s first “Drug Court” to help drug addicts tackle their drug addictions through rehabilitation in the criminal justice system.

My third priority as Prosecutor is always being accessible to the community. The best way I can protect the rights of crime victims and to ensure cases get handled promptly and properly is to have an open door to all citizens.

Question 5) Is Missouri's current public defender system adequate or a hinderance to prosectors? 

As Miller County Prosecuting Attorney, I believe that every citizen charged with a crime is presumed innocent under the law and is entitled to adequate legal representation. I also believe that a strong public defender system is necessary to protect the rights of all accused. However, I will not comment on if the Public Defender System is adequate. I handle far more cases in Miller County than the Public Defenders handle in Miller County and I do so with less funding and resources. As such, I expect public defenders to represent their clients and do their jobs to the best of their ability regardless of funding.

Robert Seek (Opponent)

My name is Robert J. Seek. I was born and raised in Tipton in Moniteau county. I have been happily married to my wife, Kathy, for 26 years and have 4 children and six grandchildren. I graduated with honors from Central Missouri State University in 1974 and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Law in 1977. I was Miller county prosecuting attorney from 1983 through 1990 and 1995 through 2006. I have served as special prosecuting attorney in Camden, Laclede, Morgan and Moniteau Counties. I tried nearly 100 jury trials. For nearly ten years I have been attorney for the Juvenile Office in the 26 Circuit while maintaining a private practice. I have never tried a criminal or juvenile th case overturned on appeal. I served on the Missouri Council on Criminal Justice Region XVI, was an off campus professor teaching Criminal Law for the University of Central Missouri, was an organizer and past president of the Citizen’s Advisory Board to Probation and Parole in the 26 Circuit, served on the Board of Directors of the Eldon Country, am th President of the Eldon Bowling Association, and am Secretary/Treasurer of the Olean Christian Church. I am asking for your vote.

Question 1) Why are you running for office?

My first day of work as a licensed attorney was as the first assistant prosecuting attorney in Miller County. Living in a rural community I have engaged in a general practice and from time to time have been a defense attorney when not a prosecutor. The rewards of being a prosecuting attorney have remained in my blood and when numerous persons I know and respect, who believe a change is needed, asked me to run again I accepted the challenge. I look forward to concentrating on only one area of the law and devoting full time to working with law enforcement, court staff and Miller County citizens to make Miller County the great place to live it should be. I can promise you no one will be more dedicated or devote more time to the office that I will. I want to make one point clear: It has been said that the only reason I am running is to increase my retirement. Not true. The likely increase in my retirement will be so small that it will take me 20 years at the increased retirement amount to make up the retirement income I will forego while serving as prosecuting attorney.

Question 2) What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing the Miller County Prosecuting Attorney's Office?

It seems clear that crime in Miller County is on a rapid increase and that it needs to be brought under control. Numerous homicides have recently occurred and my opponent claims he has filed record numbers of cases. I have observed, and citizens I have talked to make it clear, that illegal drugs are a compelling issue. Families are being destroyed, children are being neglected and exposed to drugs and even babies are being born addicted to controlled substances. Many cases involving abuse of children are drug related. Many other crimes are the result of drug abuse–either because the criminal is high, is stealing to buy drugs or because there is a dispute relating to drug transactions. It is absolutely essential that the community has confidence that the prosecuting attorney, law enforcement and the courts are working together to reduce drug related criminal activity.

Question 3) What is a reasonable amount of time for cases to make their way through the court system?

Each case is different. Circumstances sometimes exist such that a delay in a case is required. Most should move quickly through the system. The state of the prison system in Missouri is that the vast majority of simple drug possession cases are going to be resolved by the granting of probation. The defendants know what was possessed so measures to protect their rights while moving those cases through the court system quickly should be implemented. There also has to be a clear threat a case will go to trial. As a prosecutor I tried a homicide on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, a stealing case on Thursday and Friday, and another homicide the next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I have experience in preparing multiple cases for trial for a trial week and believe such a threat will move cases. Court dockets are huge. It is going to take time to clear the backlog and also move new cases. My goal would be to see many cases resolved in six months or less and a majority within a year. In conjunction with that, a priority will be made to move those being held in jail through the system as quickly as possible.

Question 4) What are your priorities?

You can file record numbers of possession cases and force people to address their addictions but that does not go to the root of the problem. When I was prosecuting attorney law enforcement in Miller County and adjoining counties had confidence that I would vigorously prosecute drug traffickers. A series of undercover drug operations were carried out and numerous arrests were made.

Many trials were had and many juries recommended long sentences.

Getting drug dealers off the streets will be a priority. Related to that will be working to make undercover drug operations a threat to dealers once again. Crimes against children will continue to be a priority as will be seeing that victims are treated with respect and compensated for their losses. Shortening the time in court for docket calls will be a priority. I will be in the office early and in the courtroom before court starts. A priority will be to have reviewed cases and to have made disposition offers to attorneys before the court date. A priority will be to have proposed dispositions noted in each file so as to immediately make an offer when an attorney enters an appearance the day of court.

Question 5) Is Missouri's current public defender system adequate or a hindrance to prosecutors?

Public defenders have a difficult job that I respect. They could use a bigger budget as could prosecutors. Some aspects of their case load are exaggerated however. During the case load review hearing I heard a defender include in his case load a large number of possession cases in which he was doing nothing for months because he was waiting for lab tests. When I was prosecutor my observation was that most defenders were diligent but also were practical in giving advice to and representing their clients. They advised clients that various motions and tactics could be used and the right to a jury trial was absolute but the risks involved outweighed the chance that the defendant would receive an undeserved lucky break. Some defenders are simply new attorneys whose representation is more idealistic than realistic. Too often there is a tendency to apply a “cookie cutter”approach suggested by administrators rather than what is needed in a particular case. Still, in the totality the system is adequate. Are defenders a hindrance? I would not go that far. Sometimes they make resolution of a case more difficult than it should be, but they are doing what they believe they should.