When Kayla Jackson-Williams was in sixth grade, her teacher noticed her talkative and assertive nature. If she didn’t end up as a lawyer, “something was wrong,” she heard him say.
From that moment, she knew she wanted to become a lawyer. Now, after practicing law for five years, she is seeking to become an associate circuit judge for Division 10, which handles all family, juvenile and adult law cases.
Jackson-Williams, 32, earned her law degree at MU in 2016 and later practiced family law at the Stange law firm in Colombia.
From 2017 to 2019, she practiced criminal law at the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office, then joined Rogers Ehrhardt at Columbia in 2020.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Jackson-Williams describes her childhood and teenage years as difficult. She was raised by a single mother and her brother suffered from sickle beta-thalassemia, a disease that affects red blood cells.
“I wasn’t necessarily alone, but my mother and brother were often in the hospital,” she said.
At first, she was involved with the Boys and Girls Club of America and said the scholarships she got got her going to college.
Now a volunteer for the club, Jackson-Williams wants to make an impact on school-aged children entering the prison system.
She said she decided to run for associate circuit judge because she believed the legal system needed diversity in many ways.
“I have a diverse legal and personal background,” she said. “Those two things will allow me to be an amazing judge and bridge the cultural and generational gaps in our county.”
Jackson-Williams said she served as counsel in nine jury trials, countless trials and hearings. She also said that while experience matters, the quality of her experience matters more.
“Over the years, I have proven that I am a quality lawyer with immense experience in a short time,” she said. “I think it’s important that people know that.”
She also said she wants to implement a family treatment court program in Boone County that mirrors that of Callaway County. This would allow those with substance abuse or mental health issues to obtain treatment without the criminal component necessary to enter Boone County Mental Health or Substance Abuse Court.
Her main goal as a judge would be to show fairness and be fair at all levels, she said, “despite how much money a person makes or who knows a person.”
“I believe that all of our judges are doing a great job on this, and I would like to continue on this path.”
In his words, an ideal judge should be honest, fair, trustworthy, intelligent, hardworking, and willing to set aside preconceptions and acknowledge their biases.
“People don’t care what you know until they know you care,” Jackson-Williams said. She has centered her legal practice and campaign around this message, which she credits to her teacher, mentor and campaign treasurer, Bob Bailey.
Bailey said he would not attach his name to a candidate unless he truly believed the candidate was qualified. He said he did not follow the day-to-day operations of the circuit court, but he knew prosecutors, public defenders, defense attorneys and judges who had interacted with Jackson-Williams.
“They all told me that she is a superb public defender and lawyer who represents her clients with tremendous advocacy, respect and concern for them as individuals, and is able to combine practice, motherhood and volunteer efforts while being a stellar advocate for her clients,” he said.
As a lawyer, mother, advocate and candidate for the Aug. 2 primary, Jackson-Williams said she relates to a saying from Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”: “Life is a great balancing act.”
“It applies to me every day,” she said.