Republican voters in Madison County will be asked to choose between two candidates for Prosecuting Attorney during the Aug. 2 primary election. The candidates, M. Dwight Robbins and Michael Ligons, have been asked the same questions.
M. Dwight Robbins
The Robbins family has lived in Madison County for more than 150 years.
“My father was county superintendent, and my mother taught school in Mine La Motte and Marquand,” Robbins said. “I am married and have three adult children. I have lived in Madison County all of my life, except for school and for 13 years working for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. I returned in 1984 to Missouri, and went to law school. My law office opened in 1987, and I have practiced law in Madison County for 35 years.”
Robbins first served 16 years as prosecuting attorney from 1991 to 2007, then after 8 years in private practice, he ran for prosecutor and has been serving as prosecuting attorney since 2015. That totals 24 years as prosecuting attorney.
“During that time, I have handled almost every kind of case, from murder to seat belt violations and everything in between,” Robbins said. “I have never had an assistant, so I have hands-on experience with every type of case. Over the past 7 years, I have handled over 10,000 felony, misdemeanor, and traffic cases. My office has been very active in collecting restitution for victims, having collected and returned to victims over $328,000 over the past 7 years.”
Robbins said they have also modernized the office and office procedures and have been able to reduce the office budget and save the county over $311,000 over the past 7 years.
“We have been very active in developing new approaches for dealing with drug control, by requiring eligible defendants to serve either 120 day or long term drug treatment in the Department of Corrections, and by requiring all drug offenders to participate in one year of after care with facilities like New Life Recovery,” Robbins said.
Robbins said unlike many states, Missouri prosecutors are all elected at the local, county level. He said the advantage of that system is that the prosecutor knows the county and the people he/she represents.
“I believe that is one of the most important characteristics of an effective prosecutor – you have to know the county and the people,” Robbins said. “The second most important characteristic is experience. Years ago, a new lawyer fresh out of law school could do an adequate job as prosecutor. That is not true today. Over the last 20 years, the criminal laws and procedures have become increasingly complex and technical. We attend two major seminars each year, and several specialized courses throughout the year to keep us updated.”
Robbins said the third most important characteristic is that a prosecutor must not be afraid to take on difficult or unpopular cases.
“Law enforcement must be equal for everyone. No one should receive or expect to receive special treatment,” Robbins said. “The fourth most important characteristic is a prosecutor cannot be afraid of hard work. It is a 24/7 365 day a year job. Cases have to be filed on weekends as well as weekdays, and search warrants come at all hours of the night and day.”
Finally, Robbins said, a prosecutor has to have good relations with all law enforcement agencies. He said, his doors are always open to officers to discuss cases 24/7.
When asked what his goals would be for the next term, Robbins said, to basically, continue what we have been doing for the last 7 years: file and prosecute cases, make victims as whole as we can, and continue to modernize the office.
“Since the biggest problem that we have is drugs, we will continue to work to reduce the drug problem in Madison County,” Robbins said. “Drugs are the root cause of most of the crimes we have and, in particular, burglaries and stealing. The state government is not very helpful. They consider drug crimes to be victimless crimes, and prison incarcerations are often very very short, even for long sentences. So it is up to us at the local level to take on the load of drug elimination.”
Robbins said first, his office would continue to find and prosecute drug traffickers to the fullest extent possible. Then, they will continue to require, after the defendants get out of prison, that they have at least one year of after care to keep them off drugs.
“If we can keep them off the drugs, we will automatically reduce the burglaries and stealing,” Robbins said.
Ligons graduated from East Carter County R-2 in 1984, joined the U.S. Navy under the deferred enlistment program, and in January of 1985 began serving a five-year tour of duty as a Russian linguist/cryptologist.
“Upon being honorably discharged at the end of my enlistment in 1990, I returned to Carter County where I served as Circuit Clerk and Recorder of Deeds from January 1, 1991 until December 31, 1994,” Ligons said. “It was during that time that I met and married Betty Ann Cloninger and we have been married for 30 years this year.”
Ligons chose not to seek re-election as the Circuit Clerk and instead set his sights on pursuing a law degree. In May 1999 he graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a history degree and a law degree and was admitted to practice law in September of that year.
“Since that time I have maintained a private law practice, served a 4-year term as prosecutor, and served 12 years as judge,” Ligons said. “We started looking for a house in Madison County a couple of years before I retired from the bench with the intention of moving Betty back home and were able to complete that move about a year and half ago.”
Ligons has 23 years of legal experience, including four years as a prosecutor, 12 years as a judge, and 11 years in private practice.
“This reminds me of a funny story, several years ago in a county not too far from here, there was a prosecutor running for re-election who had been the prosecutor for the previous 20 years,” Ligons said. “He was famous amongst lawyers practicing in his area for lacking common sense and seemingly always finding a way of missing the big picture. One day during his campaign he loudly proclaimed, ‘Vote for me! I’ve got 20 years of prosecutorial experience!’ The circuit judge, who was often frustrated by this prosecutor’s incompetence, dryly remarked, ‘Someone should explain to him that there is a difference between 20 years of experience and 1 year of experience 20 times.'”
Ligons said to be an effective prosecutor, one must be honest, fair-minded, and dedicated to the proposition that the role of a prosecutor is to achieve justice.
“Additionally, a good prosecutor understands that not only is it his or her duty to stand between innocent citizens and those who have done them harm, it is an equally important duty to stand between any possible over-reach of government and the good citizen who would otherwise be defenseless,” Ligons said. “Above all, to be effective, a prosecutor must be willing to toe the line and fight the good fight when justice requires it, even when victory is not certain.”
Ligons said trials require a lot of time and effort on the part of a prosecutor and he or she must have the tenacity and perseverance to fight for justice instead of yielding to the temptation to offer an inappropriate plea bargain or dismiss a case as an easy solution.
“In the general sense, my top priority will be to assertively prosecute those who violate the law thereby causing damage or injury to any person or to our community and to hold them fully accountable,” Ligons said. “It is my hope that the consistent, energetic prosecution of those who violate the law will act as a deterrent to future crime as well as enhance the community’s confidence in the criminal justice system.
“More specifically, before taking office, my first priority will be to communicate with the current prosecutor, the county commission, and the county clerk in order to make sure that all the necessary steps are taken to effectuate an orderly and efficient transfer of the duties of the office at the appropriate time in an attempt to prevent any delay in the prosecution of pending cases. Also, prior to taking office, I will meet with all law enforcement agencies to discuss any concerns and to address the issue of whether there will need to be changes in current procedures or practices.
“Upon taking office, my immediate priority will be to review all pending cases in order to determine whether or not there are cases which are time sensitive and which require immediate action or disposition. Thereafter, I will conduct a review of all pending cases and all cases which are under investigation in order to determine what further action is appropriate or necessary.”