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Six months in Afghanistan real eye opener for judge

March 1, 2013

in Community Profile

Debbie Mitchell

By Kyle Siegel
Staff writer

Sedalia Municipal Judge Deborah Mitchell has only been back in the United States for a short time since going to Afghanistan with the Rule of Law program, but she is gearing up to retake the bench in two short weeks.

Mitchell was born in Springfield, Mo. She grew up in the town of Thayer, Mo., and that is where she graduated from high school.

After high school, Mitchell attended William Jewell College where she received a bachelor’s degree in English.

“My next degree was my law degree,” Mitchell explained.

Mitchell was asked why she chose to go into the law field.

“I hated law. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my law degree. I got a job with Yellow Freight as a real estate negotiator. I was there for three years,” she said.

In 1984, Mitchell was married to Max Mitchell and together they had their daughter Emily in 1988.

Mitchell was asked when she decided to go into practice for herself.

“I opened my law office in 1990 in Sedalia,” Mitchell said.

In six short years, Mitchell was first elected as a Municipal Judge in Sedalia.

“Before I ran for judge I was the substitute for Municipal Judge Bob Reeser. I actually acted as sitting judge at least once a month for several years.

“He was going to retire. I really enjoyed it. It was a really good fit. I think I do my best work one person at a time,” she said.

Mitchell received an interesting opportunity this past year, when she had a chance to go to Afghanistan with the Rule of Law program.

The Rule of Law program is sponsored by the State Department and the purpose of the program is for the United States to go into a post-conflict region and establish the rule of law.

“Afghanistan has a constitution and a set of laws, but traditionally people don’t rely on the law. They rely on the tribal councils or the village elders. They will listen to a dispute and make a ruling that will not have any application to the law,” Mitchell explained.

Mitchell was asked how she got involved in the program.

“Because of the encouragement of my friend from college, I applied. The contracts from the State Department are only a year in length.

“It took a long time to go through the employment process. It involved a background check and drug testing. I had to get mid-level security clearance,” she explained.

Mitchell had tried to enter the program several years before, but things didn’t work out. This time things fell into line for her to be able to leave.

“All of the pieces fell into place. I thought it was a sign. I did a two week training in Washington D.C.

“I left on the 22nd of August. I spent a few days in Kabal and then they shipped me to Herat. I worked closely with the Afghan Justice Advisor,” she said.

Mitchell’s time in the program was cut short when her company lost half of its contracts with the State Department.

“They had to lay off about 10 people. It was based on seniority. I was one of the last in and one of the first out. They told me they would hire me back, but I said no. The city council was so nice to give me a leave of absence the first time,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell was asked if she ever felt in danger while in Afghanistan.

“There was only two times I did not feel safe. Anytime I went in Herat, I had to wear a bullet proof vest. Anytime we went out, we had a driver and a shooter in the car.

“In Kabal that wasn’t the case. In Kabal I didn’t have to wear a vest. Anytime I went out I covered up my hair. I wanted to blend in. Most of the people that I met were very nice. They are just like us,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell was asked when she returned home, and how it felt to be back.

“I got home a week ago on the 12th. I am very happy to be home. I had a great experience, but it is very easy for me to forget how hard it is, especially for women over there,” Mitchell replied.

Mitchell will not be resting long before she takes the bench again.

“I will be on the bench on March 6. I am taking off two weeks. Relaxing sounds good,” she said.

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