Wes Dalton always aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a judge.
On Tuesday, he took the oath of office as presiding circuit judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit.
Making the occasion more special, however, was the fact that Dalton’s father, Donald – who served three decades as a circuit judge in St. Charles County – presided over the ceremony.
“When I was a little kid, I knew I would be a judge. I looked at my dad, and I knew in my heart I would be on the bench,” Dalton told The Record. “I wanted to help people and resolve (court) cases.
“My last 12 years as associate circuit judge have been fantastic,” he added. “I loved being a local associate circuit judge.”
However, Dalton noted that he is embracing the challenges his new position will offer.
“I’m looking forward to the different types of cases I will hear,” he said.
The biggest challenge, Dalton admitted, will be the administrative responsibilities which come with being the circuit’s chief official.
As presiding circuit judge, Dalton will be responsible for setting local rules for the circuit, as well as budgeting for and overseeing the juvenile office and the circuit’s court reporters.
Additionally, Dalton’s new job will involve more traveling since he also will have oversight responsibilities not only of the Warren County Circuit Court, but also the circuit courts in Montgomery and Audrain counties.
No Major Changes Planned
Dalton praised his predecessor, Keith Sutherland, who served the past 22 years as presiding circuit judge over the 12th Judicial Circuit.
“He was an awesome presiding circuit judge to have,” Dalton said. “Keith has things so well in order. It’s great.
“We’ve gotten along so well, and you couldn’t ask for a better person to watch and learn from and be colleagues with,” he continued.
As a result, Dalton said he doesn’t plan to make major changes to the policies and procedures which Sutherland established during his tenure.
“The bulk of what we do will stay the same,” Dalton remarked, adding that he plans to try to streamline the process to set dates for trials.
Rather than asking attorneys for “exclusionary” dates, Dalton said attorneys will be given set dates in three successive months on which trials can be scheduled.
“If we go out far enough, the lawyers will be able to plan ahead,” Dalton asserted, adding that he believes the new system will be beneficial for attorneys.
Streamlining the trial setting process is the most major change Dalton plans to make.
“Pretty much everything else will remain the same,” he said, noting that the foundation established by Sutherland has made the transition “very easy for me. We’ve got a great set of clerks here and the system runs smoothly.”
Dalton also expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Warren County Commission with regard to the renovation of the county courthouse in Warrenton.
“Our county commission has been unbelievable,” Dalton said. “They bent over backward to find every penny to let us expand the right way. The new courthouse will be really functional for years to come.
“They talked to us and listened to what we needed and wanted,” he added. “This has been the smoothest expansion and transition I’ve ever seen.”
Large Crowd in Attendance
Almost every seat in the gallery was filled as a large crowd turned out to at Dalton’s swearing-in ceremony.
In addition to family members and friends, several attorneys and Warren County officials were on hand for the ceremony.
Tuesday’s event marked the third time in Wes Dalton’s career that his father has administered his oath of office.
He presided over the ceremony when the younger Dalton was sworn in as an attorney after he passed the bar exam and he also administered his son’s oath of office 12 years ago when he assumed the office of associate circuit judge.
Donald Dalton, who spent three decades as a circuit judge in St. Charles County, said presiding over his son’s swearing in ceremony was “a joy, an honor, a privilege and a pleasure.”