22 April 2013
Supreme Court of Missouri celebrates investiture of Judge Paul C. Wilson
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Supreme Court of Missouri’s newest judge, Paul C. Wilson, celebrated his formal investiture Friday afternoon in a ceremony in the en banc courtroom of the Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City. Chief Justice Richard B. Teitelman presided over the ceremony, including the administration of the oath of office.
Five people – including Gov. Jay Nixon – spoke to nearly 400 guests, overflowing from the en banc courtroom to an auxiliary courtroom and the Supreme Court Library. Several of Wilson’s longtime friends – including Jefferson City attorney Chuck Hatfield, a classmate of Wilson’s at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law – spoke, along with former Missouri Chief Justice Edward D. “Chip” Robertson Jr., for whom Wilson clerked after law school. Wilson’s wife, Laura, and daughter Alice assisted with the robing.
Nixon, who hired Wilson into the attorney general’s office in 1996, said “three things become apparent” when interacting with Wilson on a legal level: “his keen intellect of the law …, strong sense of ethics and … his deep love of the law. … Paul … is literally unstoppable. His resolve stays constant to the end. … Paul has made a career of standing for justice and has been a true public servant in doing so.” Nixon praised “without hesitation” Wilson’s leadership and capacity to form, shape and preserve justice in Missouri, offering him warmest congratulations on behalf of 6 million Missourians.
Hatfield noted in his remarks, “I’ve always been impressed by his amazing work ethic and intellect and ability to cut through the legal issues … and explain them to the rest of us.” Hatfield described Wilson’s work as a circuit judge in Cole County. In one story, Hatfield said he watched Wilson preside over a particular small claims case, remarking at how patient Wilson was in listening to the litigants’ arguments and how attentive he was to their concerns, concluding, “He dismissed the case, but they both appeared happy because they had their day in court and someone listened to them.” Hatfield also described Wilson’s penchant for writing long opinions in which he uses colorful analogies – once even citing to the story of the emperor’s new clothes – to help explain his legal analysis of the issues.
Karen King Mitchell, a Missouri Court of Appeals judge whose office was next door to that of Wilson’s when he came to the attorney general’s office, focused much of her remarks on Wilson’s “most amazing work ethic and incredible enthusiasm for the law,” the fact that he is “extraordinarily talented and creative,” and the fact that, “not only did he love to talk about the law, he also loved to listen to other people talk about the law.” She said he told her after beginning work as a Supreme Court judge, “When I’m at home, all I want to do is go back to work. Being a judge is the most fun thing I do!”
Not only did Wilson graduate first in his class at law school, but he also earned the highest grade in 17 separate law school classes covering a wide range of topics, according to Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., a former Missouri chief justice and now a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri who met Wilson when both came to the Court – Limbaugh as a new judge and Wilson as a law clerk – in 1992.
“He was the law clerk, and I was the judge, and he was telling me what to do, and I was listening!” Limbaugh said. “I enjoyed being around him because he was so immersed in the law, engrossed in it, consumed by it. I’ve never known anyone in my life who has held the law more reverentially than Paul. … His arguments were lucid, they were scholarly, they were polished, they were compelling, they were in every way excellent. That was the way he performed.” At the close of his remarks, Limbaugh presented Wilson with two bow ties in memory of Wilson’s father, the late Judge McCormick Wilson of Cole County, whom Limbaugh said was “always warm and welcoming. Paul, I know you wish he was here. He’s here in spirit, of course.”
The last remarks came from Robertson, who focused on the importance of the work of a Supreme Court judge. “This is a hallowed room,” he said. “The things that come before this Court have perplexed people for centuries … the wisest among us. … For more than a century, [judges] have marched through that door to wrestle with those questions. … This is an easy job only for people who do not comprehend its implications. … This Court must weave all these decisions together as the tapestry of the law continues to be built … [into] a beautiful picture over time.” He said that when Wilson was his law clerk – in his first job after law school – Wilson “was the smartest person in the building.” Robertson praised Wilson’s appointment to the Court, saying, “If you were to take Paul’s resume and give it to any neutral person who cared about the law, you would say this is a person who should be on the Supreme Court,” noting that Wilson has worked on some of the most complex cases in Missouri and concluding, “That guy cares. We are in good hands.”
After the robing, Wilson offered remarks he had jokingly labeled as his “rebuttal.” His voice choking at times, he said, “Words cannot express the intensity of emotions that are bottled up inside me. … What I’m trying to say to you today is that everything I am, and all that I think and do and say, or ever have, is simply a reflection – or, more accurately, an expression – of all those who have invested so much in me for so long.”
He thanked many, beginning with those “closest to his heart:” his wife and daughters, noting the titles that best describe him are “husband” and “dad.” He also expressed his gratitude for his parents, noting that his father “shaped my mind” and his mother “shaped my heart.” He thanked his church family at the First Presbyterian Church in Jefferson City, teachers from high school and law school, the judges serving on the Court when he was a law clerk, all his colleagues over the years at the attorney general’s office, his former colleagues at the Cole County circuit court, and the governor and first lady.
As for his new colleagues at the Supreme Court, he said, “I think it’s safe to say I’ve been studying you longer than you’ve been studying me, but I want all my friends and family to know just how generous you’ve been with me,” noting that he feels “unbounded joy” when he comes to work each day.
He closed with a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; … my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. … Life … is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
A Jefferson City native, Wilson earned his undergraduate degree from Drury College in Springfield, Mo., and his law degree, cum laude, from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He clerked at the Supreme Court of Missouri and then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit before becoming an associate at the New York law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. He returned to Missouri in 1996 to work in the attorney general’s office, culminating there as deputy chief of staff for litigation. He then served as senior counsel for budget and finance and then director of the Transform Missouri Project. He served from January through December 2010 as a circuit judge in Cole County. He was a member of the Columbia, Mo., law firm of Van Matre, Harrison, Hollis, Taylor and Bacon PC when the governor appointed him to the Supreme Court in December 2012.
Contact: Beth S. Riggert
Supreme Court of Missouri