Judge Robin Fulton has practiced law in Madison County for more than 40 years, with 16 of those spent as the Madison County Associate Circuit Judge.
Fulton was sworn in for his first term January 1, 2007, and on Dec. 30, 2022, he led his successor, Judge Dan Fall, in his oath of office.
Fall and Fulton have a history as they worked together in private practice at the Schnapp, Fulton, Fall, Silvey and Reid law firm prior to Fulton taking office in 2007.
Fulton earned his bachelor’s degree in 1978 from Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau and his law degree in 1981 from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. He worked in private practice for 26 years before he was elected into office.
Judge Fulton and his wife Karen have made Madison County their home since December, 1980 and plan to continue their lives here as they adjust to retirement.
Fulton said, his time as judge was very exciting.
“I felt like I brought a semblance of justice to the court room,” Fulton said. “I was more worried about administering justice than anything else and listening to people.”
Fulton said, most of those, on the criminal side, who appeared in front of him knew they messed up and were sorry for what they did. He said, there were some who did not know where the line was, and they did not care, but for the most part most of the people who appeared were good people.
“On the civil side, they just wanted to tell their story,” Fulton said. “Whether it is a small claims case, a rent and possession, a divorce, or anything like that, they want someone to listen to them. They want to be heard.”
Fulton said, he strove to give everyone the opportunity to be heard. He was not always successful but said we are all human.
As an associate judge, Fulton handled all types of cases, car wreck cases, possessions, divorces, juvenile cases, adoptions, criminal, traffic, and more. At times Fulton would also be appointed to cases in one of the other four counties within the circuit. Also, at times, the supreme court would appoint him to cases out of circuit in places such as Scott City and Cape Girardeau.
When asked what the best part of being judge was, Fulton had one word, adoptions.
“You got to see families who wanted to be together,” Fulton said. “I did a fair amount, somewhere between 50 and 100 over the 16 years. Those were the most fun because everybody is happy and they usually have the big family show up and we would have pictures and everything else afterwards.”
As for the worst part, Fulton said, he hated watching people disintegrate in front of him as they struggled with drug use. He also hated seeing people fight during family court and parents putting the kids in the middle of their disputes.
“Karen and I lost a son back in 97, and it just hurt me to see the impact these people were going to have on their kids,” Fulton said. “The constant bad mouthing each other and screaming at each other, they couldn’t just get along. That was probably the worst thing.”
Over his 16 years behind the bench Fulton has seen a lot happen within the old courtroom. He recalled one instance where a young man’s bond was revoked.
“There was a young man here in court and I revoked his bond and told the deputy to take him into custody,” Fulton said. “The deputy got one cuff on him and he ran like a jack rabbit right through the doors. I don’t think he touched a single stair on the way down. They found him about two hours later back behind Barrett Jenson (currently MCSC). That was pretty memorable.”
Fulton also recalled an instance when a woman’s phone had rang during court
“I told her if it happened again I would hold her in contempt of court,” Fulton said. “Then not moments later my phone started ringing. I said, never mind, and everyone in the courtroom laughed.”
Fulton said, there were a lot of laughs during his time on the bench, and he tried to keep the atmosphere light when he could.
“These people are going through the worst times of their lives going in front of me, whether it is civil or criminal,” Fulton said. “They are spending bookoos of money on attorney fees and it’s emotional as all get out. So I tried to keep it a little light, but at the same time take it seriously.”
Fulton would strive to not only make a quick and educated decision but also explain why and how he came to that decision. He said would often say at the end of court to “go forth and sin no more.”
Fulton said, he is going to miss the people the most.
“Just being able to talk to the litigants, talk to the clerks, talk to the attorneys,” Fulton said. “As a retired judge, I’m not going to see much of them anymore. That is what I’m going to miss the most. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years.”
When Fulton decided to run for judge many years ago, he was faced with a feeling of burnout as an attorney and said he felt he would do a good job as judge. In the end, Fulton enjoyed being a judge so much it reinvigorated his interest in law.
“As a matter of fact, I signed up and am designated as a senior judge,” Fulton said. “In Missouri, you can be a senior judge if you retire. The idea is that I will get some cases that the regular judges don’t have time to hear. Like if we have a week-long jury trial, the judges because of all their other stuff, they don’t have time to hear those cases.”
The job of “judge” is usually considered a stressful job. There are a lot of people dependent on the decisions made, so judges have a lot of responsibility. But according to Fulton the job was also relatively straightforward.
“You listen to the cases and the law says what you have to do, and you do it,” Fulton said. “The cases can be very hard on the people involved, but for me the law is already decided, and I can’t change that.”
In the end, Fulton said, he feels very positive about his time as judge and thinks he did the great job he had set out to do from the start.
“I didn’t want to leave office, I had to,” Fulton said. “Well I could have ran one more time, but then I could have only served seven months and then the governor would have appointed someone. The governor is not bound to just county residents and he doesn’t know the people.”
Fulton decided instead to retire and allow the people of Madison County to vote on his replacement.
Judge Fall has spent the last week getting used to his new title and Fulton has a few words of advice for him.
“Number one, don’t take yourself too seriously,” Fulton said. “We are, after all, people. We are human beings just like everyone else. Two, to the best extent that you can, listen to the people tell their story and make a decision based on the law, the evidence and what you believe.”
Fulton said, he believes Fall will do a great job.
“It has been a privilege to serve the people of Madison County, and I hope that they think I’ve done a good job,” Fulton said.
Fulton and his wife are planning to remain local but will spend part of their retirement visiting family, traveling, golfing and most importantly, not wearing a tie.
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at email@example.com