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Judge warns against lobbying efforts in wrong-way driver fatality case
Judge warns against lobbying efforts in wrong-way driver fatality case

Associate Circuit Judge John Clayton
VIENNA, Mo. (June 11, 2009) — Associate Circuit Judge John Clayton had a strong warning Thursday afternoon for those who deluged his clerk at the Maries County Courthouse with phone calls objecting to releasing George Widener on bail: back off, or he’ll call in the state attorney general for an investigation.

After the Pulaski County judges declined to rule on a motion by defense attorney John Garrabrandt to reduce the bail for Widener, who had been held on a $250,000 cash-only bond following his arrest on negligent homicide charges accusing him of killing longtime Waynesville High School baseball coach Don Nelson in a June 4 wrong-way drunk driving crash, Circuit Judge Tracy Storie assigned the case to Clayton. When friends of Nelson learned the bond reduction hearing would be held at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, they lit up Clayton’s office phone with requests that he deny bail.

According to Clayton, between 12:01 and 1:17 p.m., his clerk received 31 separate phone calls trying to influence the bond hearing.

“I am an up-front person,” Clayton warned the courtroom audience. “What everybody should know is I don’t read letters sent to me on pending cases.”

Calls which tie up the single clerk working in Maries County are worse than letters, Clayton said, since they prevent court business from being conducted.

“Somebody coordinated that and I consider it to be harassment,” Clayton said. “I will not put up with that from either side ... you may not — I repeat, may not — abuse my office.”

Clayton said efforts to lobby a judge are inappropriate and unethical.

“Everyone is entitled to a judge who is impartial and not influenced by anything that is different from the evidence before him,” Clayton said. “Let this be a word to the wise ... I didn’t ask for this; it didn’t happen in my county, but somebody else didn’t want to do this. It is my job, and I don’t object to it, but I didn’t ask for this.”

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