After over 20 years of public service, J. Edward Sweeney, 39th Judicial Circuit judge, will retire at the end of the year.
"It has been wonderful working with Judge Sweeney," said Glenda Shoen, who has served as Sweeney's secretary for the last 21 years. "I have never enjoyed working with anybody more than I have him.
"He is the most hard working, dedicated judge I have ever come to know," said Shoen. "I will miss him very much."
Sweeney, who graduated from Monett High School in 1962, received his undergraduate college education from Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Wis.
After receiving his bachelor of arts degree, Sweeney entered the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law and graduated in 1969. Shortly after graduation, Sweeney joined the United States Army and served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971.
When he returned to Barry County, Sweeney joined his father, Edward V. Sweeney, in private practice. He served as Barry County prosecuting attorney in 1973 and 1974, before returning to private practice until 1985.
"It had always been an aspiration of mine to, at some point in time, become a judge," said Sweeney.
Around 10 years after serving as prosecuting attorney, Sweeney was appointed as a 39th Judicial associate circuit judge by Governor John Ashcroft. He began serving Barry, Lawrence and Stone counties on Sept. 11, 1985.
"I was extremely nervous," said Sweeney. "Even though I had been in private practice, there were certain fields and areas that I had not practiced in. I began to read the statutes to learn about those areas."
Sweeney was elected to the associate circuit judge position by voters in the 39th Judicial Circuit in 1986 and re-elected in 1990.
In 1994, Sweeney ran for 39th Judicial Circuit judge and was elected. He was re-elected to his current position in 2000.
"The biggest change I've seen in the court system over the years is the increased work load of civil and criminal cases," said Sweeney.
When Sweeney became circuit judge over 10 years ago, he heard around 600 felony cases per year. Today, he hears around 450 felony cases each year.
"The others are heard by my fellow associate circuit judges, who also hear another 250 cases," said Sweeney. "By them hearing those cases, it allows me to work on more complex jury cases."
As circuit judge, Sweeney is in charge of gathering required reports and working with other circuit judges, associate circuit judges and circuit clerks to make sure the Office of State Courts Administrator's demands are met.
"My greatest challenges have been trying to keep up with the cases and case load and attempting to resolve cases in a reasonable, timely fashion," said Sweeney. "I just try to do the best job I can by being fair and impartial in my decisions."
The ever increasing number of felony cases related to alcohol and drug abuse is very discouraging for a judge, said Sweeney.
"Around 80 percent of the criminal cases I hear involve the use or abuse of alcohol or drugs," said Sweeney. "The abuse of drugs and alcohol have contributed to increased violent crimes and to many sexual offense oriented crimes.
"As circuit judge, I have tried 11 murder cases and taken guilty pleas in approximately 25 other murder cases," said Sweeney. "I cannot remember one of those cases in which alcohol or drugs was not involved."
Throughout his career, Sweeney has tried close to 200 civil or criminal jury trials, heard numerous criminal cases and taken a large number of guilty pleas.
"I would like to express my appreciation to the citizens of Barry, Lawrence and Stone counties for their willingness to perform jury duty," said Sweeney. "It is an important civic responsibility that takes people away from their employment, family and leisure time, but the constitution guarantees citizens the right to a trial by jury and we've had the jury system since 1791.
"No other country in the world has a jury system such as we have, and I am firmly convinced it does a good job," said Sweeney.
As he retires from his 39th Judicial Circuit judgeship, Sweeney says his memories of working with the lawyers and fellow judges in the 39th Judicial Circuit have made the biggest impression upon him.
"It has been a pleasure to work with the associate judges, circuit clerk and staff, associate circuit clerk and staff, prosecuting attorney and staff, public defender and staff and all the private counsel of Barry County, as well as being associated with and working with fellow courthouse employees," said Sweeney.
"The 39th Circuit has good lawyers, who fight vigorously to protect the interest of their clients," said Sweeney. "Once the day is over, though, the lawyers are still friendly toward one another."
Sweeney plans to take senior judge status following his retirement, which means he will be free to choose to hear cases on a voluntary basis.
In addition to voluntary court work, Sweeney plans to travel with his wife, Donna, and spend time with his children, Vincent and Marlena, who both are employed in the Fayetteville, Ark., area.
Sweeney will also spend time reading for pleasure, as opposed to the mandatory court-related reading he has digested over the last few years, and playing golf.
"I need to give a special thanks to all of the court clerks, circuit, associate and probate," said Sweeney. "People do not realize the amount of paperwork and time put into handing claims. "The 39th Judicial Circuit has over 16,000 cases per year, which range from traffic, domestic and small claims to civil and criminal," said Sweeney. "Those ladies work very hard and they need to be commended.
"I also want to express my thanks and appreciation to Glenda Shoen, who has been my secretary and administrative assistant for the last 12 years and worked for Judge Pinnell for 26 years prior to that," said Sweeney. "And to my court reporter, Kim Balley, who has been with me for the last 12 years and worked for me for three years previous. I want to show my appreciation for all the time and effort each of them have expended."