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Probate Judge candidates explain why they're seeking Republican nomination
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (June 21, 2014) — Members of the Pulaski County Republican Women’s Club heard quite different presentations during their Saturday morning meeting at PriceCutter’s Restaurant when former Pulaski County Prosecutor Mike Headrick and current Pulaski County Assistant Prosecutor Dean Matthews asked for their votes for the associate circuit judge, probate division.

Headrick and Matthews are both seeking the Republican nomination in the August primary. The winning candidate will run against incumbent Associate Circuit Judge Ronda Cortesini, a Democrat who was appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to fill the vacancy of Greg Warren, who Nixon had previously elevated from Associate Circuit Judge to Circuit Judge after Circuit Judge Mary Sheffield was elevated to the Court of Appeals.

The two associate circuit judge positions — the probate division post now held by Cortesini and the magistrate division position now held by Colin Long — do have overlapping duties. However, the probate division judge handles family law issues related to divorce, child custody, settling estates after deaths, and guardianship of adult wards of the state, while the magistrate division judge generally handles lower-level criminal cases as well as the initial stages of more serious felony cases.

Matthews said during his speech to the Republican Women’s Club, he wanted to deviate from the standard speech he’s given in other appearances.

“My wife advised me that I should be a little more personal,” Matthews said. “The women in my family are an inspiration  me.”

Matthews noted that he was from a family of seven, including a mentally handicapped brother, and said his mother played a significant role in lobbying for Missouri’s sheltered workshop program and other services geared toward adults who are often wards of the state.

“He was what was called at the time ‘severely retarded,’” Matthews said. “He was a handful. He was a beautiful, beautiful baby child, but he couldn’t do anything for himself. He had grand mal seizures…. She took what could have been a negative and made a real positive out of it; she inspired me by her service,” Matthews said.

Former Gov. Kit Bond eventually hired Matthews’ mother to become his secretary for affirmative action, working with issues related to concerns of those with handicaps.

Matthews said he’s now been married for 33 years, and his wife now works for Phelps County Regional Medical Center. Matthews’ daughters include two teachers, one in the Dixon R-I School District and the other in the Waynesville R-VI School District; a third has just completed her certification in radiological technology and will be studying at Missouri University of Science and Technology with a focus on learning how to make sure radiation intended to treat patients actually gets to the right places in their bodies.

“I first want to thank the families of Pulaski County; that’s where a good county begins with good families like the Headricks, Coxes, Lynchs… This is a wonderful county and I feel comfortable here,” Matthews said. “One of the reasons I feel comfortable here, spending in the last seven years in the prosecutor’s office as your full-time assistant prosecutor… is because I was born at Lackland Air Force Base. I kind of identify with the Fort over there.”

Matthews, whose father was in the Air Force and who is himself an Army veteran, said he has nieces and nephews currently in the military.

“Us brats from the Air Force and the Army look fondly on places like this,” Matthews said. “They are also very welcoming to the rest of us transplants. This community does a super job of having the Fort right there and supporting the Fort. I love being part of that community.”

While Matthews said his family’s Missouri roots date back to 1835 in Carroll County, he’s relatively new to Pulaski County. However, he said he plans to remain in and eventually retire in Pulaski County, regardless of whether he wins the judgeship this fall.

“This is a wonderful place to retire,” Matthews said.

Headrick, by contrast, is a Waynesville High School graduate. While he didn’t mention it in his speech, his wife is also a Waynesville teacher and in her capacity with the teachers’ association, coordinates the forums held each year for the district’s school board candidates.

While Matthews went to law school after many years in business and has served seven years as an assistant prosecutor in Pulaski County, Headrick became the elected Pulaski County Prosecutor only 15 months after graduating from law school in 1993 at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.

When he ran for county prosecutor in 1994 against Wayne Gifford, the incumbent in what was then a part-time position, Republicans were rare in Pulaski County and almost never elected, but Headrick said he chose to run as a Republican based on his core convictions.

“I grew up under Ronald Reagan and he was during my formative years; that’s why I was a Republican then and still am a Republican,” Headrick said. “Thankfully with a lot of good solid Republican families, I won the election.”

Headrick said there’s been a “big difference” between running as a Republican in 1994 and running as a Republican this year.

“Republican leadership in his county has taken this county a long ways, it really has,” Headrick said. “Is because of groups like this and the people’s dedication… in 20 years there’s been a remarkable change.”

Although the prosecutor position was then considered to be a part-time job and remained part-time until voters approved a change to full-time status in 2002, Headrick closed his private law practice after being elected.

“I devoted full time to it which I think it deserved. I think I was successful as prosecuting attorney because I had a pretty simple philosophy toward it, and that was to work hard, devote time to it, follow the law and don’t let politics influence by decisions,” Headrick said.

Headrick decided not to run for re-election when the prosecutor’s office became a full-time position in 2002, returning to private practice.

“I had a general practice, a versatile case load which I think would serve me well,” Headrick said. “Our county judges have to pretty much handle all kinds of cases. In over 20 years I’ve handled those types.”

In many campaign appearances, including his comments on Saturday, Headrick has stressed what he said were key parts of the role of a judge: “have some common sense, follow the law, follow the bill of rights.”

“What I mean by that is every American citizen has rights under our Constitution, under the Bill of Rights,” Headrick said. “They are specific to protect the individual from control of the government. I think when the Bill of Rights are infringed upon by the government, I think it violates the common sense of the American people, what our Founding Fathers gave to us.”

The roles of a defense attorney, prosecuting attorney and judge “are really all the same,” Headrick said . “You simply apply the facts and the law. You don’t interpret the law, you look at it, and really our statutes and case law are pretty straightforward.”

Republican Women’s Club officials said Jeff Thomas, the sole Republican candidate in the August primary who will run against incumbent Associate Circuit Judge Colin Long for the magistrate division post, wasn’t able to attend Saturday but is expected to come to the women’s club for a future candidate presentation.

State Rep. Steve Lynch complimented both Matthews and Headrick on how they’ve been running their campaigns.

“It’s been inspirational just to hear these two candidates speak today; when they got done, you were all smiling,” Lynch said. “As they say, you don’t always do that. They are such good men; it’s not surprising they are having the kind of campaigns they are.”

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