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In the Spotlight

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by Kris Ann Hegle

SBJ Contributing Writer

Not many people who have a degree from Harvard can say they've worked on a Mississippi River towboat. But then again, Greene County Circuit Court Judge Pat Deaton isn't your typical Harvard graduate.

A graduate of Glendale High School, Deaton financed much of his own education while earning an undergraduate degree in history, a law degree and a master's degree in public administration. While in school, he worked as a hospital orderly, a carman's helper for the railroad and a towboat deck hand.

During his professional career, Deaton has served as public defender in a nationally publicized murder case and ran for Congress twice. As of Jan. 1, he'll leave his post as Greene County Circuit Court judge.A

So what's next for Deaton? He's not saying. His commitment to public service, however, will likely put him back in the public eye before too long.

When Deaton first graduated from law school, he said, he thought about specializing in admiralty law because he had experience working on boats and barges. He interviewed with a law firm that specialized in admiralty law and received some surprising advice.

"The lawyer I was interviewing with told me I should go someplace where they still make real lawyers," Deaton said. "Admiralty law involves a lot of trial work on major cases. He advised me to apply somewhere where I could get some courtroom experience immediately."

During this period, Deaton volunteered to work in an election going on in St. Louis, where he lived. The experience had a profound affect on him, and he decided to become a public servant.

In 1981, he became the assistant public defender for St. Louis County. While serving as a public defender, he represented clients in misdemeanor and felony jury trials, as well as preliminary hearings.

"The lawyers I worked with were just outstanding," Deaton said. "That job gave me courtroom experience and helped me steer my career in the right direction."

Deaton headed back to Springfield in 1983 so he could spend more time with his father, who was having heart trouble. He assumed management of the new Public Defender's Office in Springfield, which covered an eight-county area and employed five other attorneys.

In 1985, Deaton received national media attention when he became the public defense attorney for David Tate. Tate, who reportedly was a member of a right-wing group called The Order, was charged with killing one Missouri state trooper and wounding another. Although the state sought the death penalty in the case, Tate received a first-degree murder conviction with a life sentence.

"It's a lawyer's responsibility to represent his client zealously within the bounds of the law," Deaton said. "It's not a lawyer's job to judge his client. When you work as a criminal defense attorney, it's up to somebody else to judge the case."

After leaving the Public Defender's Office in Springfield, Deaton attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., where he earned a master's degree in public administration in 1987.

Following graduation, he returned to St. Louis and worked as a criminal defense attorney for Margulis and Grant PC. In 1989, he returned to Springfield and opened his own practice.

The need to get back into public service prompted Deaton to run for Congress in 1990 against Republican incumbent Rep. Mel Hancock. Deaton, a Democrat, lost the election but garnered 48 percent of the vote. In 1992, he ran against Hancock again but was defeated.

In September of this year, Deaton returned to public service when he was appointed by Gov. Mel Carnahan to fill the unexpired term of retiring Judge David Anderson. In November, Deaton ran a close race against Republican Don Burrell but lost the election.

"This turned out to be a really good job for me," said Deaton. "People told me my temperament made me ideally suited for this position. My years of trial experience made for a smooth transition, and my public administration background prepared me well for the administrative duties of this job. In this position, experience really does matter."

Being a Democrat in Missouri's largely Republican 7th Congressional District hasn't helped Deaton in his bids for public office. Still, he hasn't ruled out running for public office again.

Although Burrell will assume office soon, Deaton said he hasn't made any plans yet about his next job.

"The citizens deserve my full attention while I'm here," Deaton said. "I have an opportunity to show people how good a judge I can be. I want to make every day count. I'll worry about my next job after Jan. 1."


Currently serving as Greene County Circuit Court Judge.

A lawyer with a master's

degree in public administration, Deaton is a former public defender for Congress.

"We all have a responsibility to make our government



The Harvard graduate has public service at the heart of his career path. Kris Ann Hegle's story on the lawyer and unsuccessful political candidate on page 11.[[In-content Ad]]


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