30 September 2004
Chief Justice Ronnie White addresses The Missouri Bar, Judicial Conference in St. Louis
Ronnie L. White, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Missouri, delivered the following address during the opening luncheon of The Missouri Bar/Judicial Conference annual meeting September 30, 2004, in St. Louis, Mo.
Before I get into my prepared remarks, I'd like to introduce someone very important and special to me -- and if I don't, I can't come home tonight -- my wife, Sylvia. I'd also like to thank the young people who left school today to hear me speak. Sylvia and I have a 16-year-old son, and on Monday, I asked Ronnie Jr., "What are you doing Thursday between 11:30 and 1:30? Because I'd like to take you to have lunch with your mom and me." He said he had a physics class and lab that he'd love to get out of, but then he asked, "Who is the lunch with?" I told him it would be a group of lawyers and judges. He said, "Dad, I've been listening to you working on that speech, and I think I'll go to physics."
President Corrigan, esteemed judicial colleagues, and fellow members of the Bar, it is a pleasure to be here with you today. It is also a great pleasure for me to welcome Mary Rhodes Russell to the Supreme Court. She will bring energy and enthusiasm to our Court, and we are all looking forward to working with her in the years to come. Unfortunately, she is unable to be here today, as her father passed away on Sunday night. So please let us have a moment of silence for Judge Russell and her family.
Thank you. I'd just like to say to the people putting together the program for today's luncheon, thank you for using my favorite picture. It is 10 years old, so you can keep on using it. It means I haven't aged in 10 years.
It seems to be a tradition for the chief justice to come to this meeting, present proposals, and look forward to the future of our profession. But this year, I have a different outlook – one that looks at what the Judiciary, with the help of the great leadership provided by The Missouri Bar, has done already.
The perception of the legal profession in this state and in this country often fails to reflect the dedication of many of these leaders – people who take time away from their practices to serve the public in ways that often cannot be seen by the untrained eye. But for those of us who have watched them over the years, the difference they have made is clear and unmistakable. Fortunately for us in Missouri, we have been graced with so many leaders who have ably served in the role of president of The Missouri Bar. Just look at some of the presidents who have served us over the years:
Consider Judge Ortrie Smith, who expanded the judicial evaluation survey and increased the public’s awareness of it and the nonpartisan court plan. Through his efforts to increase both professionalism and public awareness, he has made a lasting positive impact. In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Bar released the results of the most recent judicial evaluation survey. I thank all of you who completed the survey for your frank ratings of our nonpartisan judges.
Continuing in the vein of public awareness, John Black promoted cameras in the courtroom, encouraged the use of plain language in pleadings and opinions, and showed that lawyers understood the importance of helping others when he helped organize the 1993 Legal Relief for Flood Victims project.
In turn, St. Louisan Dudley McCarter worked hard to counter the perception of attorneys as being selfish when he greatly expanded the public’s knowledge and use of the Bar’s series of public information brochures – and he did this all in addition to his long-standing role of case updates in the Missouri Bar Journal.
Next there was Ron Mitchell from the southwest part of the state. Ron took the first step toward state funding for legal services for the less fortunate when he helped ensure the first-ever Legal Aid appropriation from the general assembly. Years later, he went on to chair the Statewide Legal Services Coordinating Committee and created the position of MoLAP Director on The Missouri Bar staff to help those lawyers in need of personal intervention or other forms of assistance.
And then there was Larry Tucker from Kansas City, who used his tenure to focus on children’s issues, establishing the Children and the Law Commission, which has helped to develop significant legislation affecting children and their families even to this day.
Then there was Charlie Weiss, and I know Charlie is here today. He led the effort to change the Rules of Professional Conduct by setting a goal for lawyers of 40 hours per year of pro bono service in an effort to rededicate our profession to this important work. Thank you, Charlie.
To assure that new attorneys were not alone when they entered the profession, Bunky Wright from Columbia established a mentoring program, which continues to this day, helping many young lawyers develop into future leaders of our profession.
And in response to a changing professional environment and changes to the perception of the legal profession nationwide, Jennifer Gille Bacon established the Multidisciplinary Committee, which made recommendations to the ABA on multidisciplinary practice. Her concern with the perception of lawyers by those outside the profession also led to the Bar’s institutional advertising campaign.
And then there was Mike Gunn from St. Louis, who I believe is here. He also recognized the importance of nonlawyers to the profession when he promoted judicial outreach and instituted the first Juror Appreciation Week in Missouri. In addition, his work promoting diversity in the profession through the Bar’s Leadership Academy has helped to increase minority participation in the bar. I know for a fact that when it comes to diversity, Mike Gunn means what he says. This conference was last held in St. Louis during his tenure as president. And many of the events were scheduled for a location that, due to past practices, was not viewed as friendly to minority members of the Bar. This placed President Gunn in a very difficult situation. But he handled it with grace and responsiveness to all parties, working with everyone to provide alternatives whenever possible. That was a gesture that I will not soon forget.
Fortunately for all of us, uncommon leadership has become common for The Missouri Bar, as President Gunn’s successor, John Briscoe, also demonstrated. You know, he ensured that the major newspapers in Missouri understood the concept of judicial independence and why it is essential to our form of government. He formed a committee to explore multijurisdictional practice and appointed a Legal Services Funding Committee to find alternative sources of income for Legal Services – work that finally came to fruition with the passage of the legal services funding bill just two years ago. Needless to say, his work on judicial independence and legal services are of great importance even as we sit here today.
Then there is Theresa Levings, at whom I am looking right now. Theresa, I want to thank you for your work. She took the work of the Legal Services Funding Committee to a new level and, by working with the general assembly and editorial boards throughout the state, set the stage for the eventual passage of the Legal Aid court fee surcharge. She also initiated the well-known weekly electronic newsletter -- ESQ -- to communicate with Bar members, helping to meet our needs in this high-tech communication age.
Then there was Dale Doerhoff, who completed the legislative work that led to the Legal Aid Filing Fee when he saw Senate Bill 447 through to final passage. Dale also secured a $700,000 distribution from the Cole County Circuit Court that was provided to the four legal services programs, and he also focused our attention on alternatives to the billable hour -- and I know you lawyers out there on the clock want me to hurry up so you can get back to work -- for giving us new ways to look at the practice of law in the 21st century.
Now, this brings me to our current president, Bill Corrigan. By any measure, establishing the Lawyers in the Legislature initiative, the Law School for Legislators, the Corporate Pro Bono initiative, and the Law School Loan Repayment Program would be enough to say that Bill had a rather prolific year as president of the Bar. However, it was not with those initiatives where I think he really excelled. When he took over as Bar president, the Judiciary's budget circumstances last year called him to an even greater level of participation – a call that he answered in a manner far above and beyond what we would have imagined. Upon hearing our initial budget estimates, President Corrigan began a traveling media relations campaign that reached every corner of the state. And the reason I know this is that on several occasions, I would meet Bill at the airport at 6 a.m. as we went across the state. He would urge anyone who would listen to understand the vital role that the Judiciary plays as our independent third branch of government. Owing in large part to his efforts, as well as many of you here today who let your feelings be known about this very important issue, the General Assembly and the Judiciary fostered a cooperative, working relationship that preserved the fundamental integrity and independence of our Judiciary. And these efforts helped Missouri avoid a crisis that many faced in other states around the country as a result of judicial budgets being slashed to a level where basic court services to citizens suffered. Thank you, Bill Corrigan.
We look forward to working with our incoming president, Joe Whisler, and our vice president, Doug Copeland, as they too will face a variety of new challenges. It is certain that one such challenge will be the issue of lawyer advertising. To every member of the Bar who may be interested in this matter, I only ask this: please participate in this ongoing process so that the views of the widest possible cross-section of our profession are known on this important topic, and so that our deliberations might be as well-informed as possible.
As much as our fine Bar presidents have done, and undoubtedly will continue to do, there remains one constant at The Missouri Bar whom I have yet to recognize. Of course I am referring to the Bar's executive director, Keith Birkes. Many of you may not be aware of the fine work Keith does every day on behalf of all of us, but I am happy to inform you that his colleagues have recognized him as one of the very best. Next month, the National Association of Bar Executives will honor Keith as the recipient of the prestigious Bolton Award for Professional Excellence -- congratulations. His years of service to our Bar, as well as to this national organization, are a testament to Keith's professionalism, camaraderie and tireless efforts to improve the administration of justice. We are all honored to have him right here in Missouri, serving as our executive director.
It is true that our leaders have done much to improve our profession. But it is not only the leaders of the Bar who have answered the call. As the saying goes, “if the people lead, the leaders will follow”… and so too may this be said of the membership of The Missouri Bar. Your daily efforts make the practice of law in Missouri what it is. Your efforts and suggestions are vital to our continued growth as a profession. To each one of you I say: we are listening, and we stand ready to work with you.
One message that we at the Court have heard loud and clear from you during the past few years is that the Supreme Court of Missouri put its rules online. Well, for all of you who made sure your voices were heard on this issue, I have some good news: Ask and you shall receive! Thanks to hard work by staff at the Supreme Court and the Office of State Courts Administrator, I am proud to announce that the Supreme Court Rules and Court Operating Rules are now online. We invite you to visit our booth to learn more about all of the features of our new online rules – or just visit the Missouri Judiciary’s website at www.courts.mo.gov, and you can see for yourself. I tested it out yesterday, and it seems to work fine. I'm sure those of you who know more about computers than I do may find something that may help make our online efforts better.
I assure you that updating our website and maintaining our rules online will be an ongoing priority of mine – and your feedback on how this new development is working will be vital to our continued success. As further evidence of our willingness to cooperate with you in creating a better environment for the practice of law in this state, your suggestions and requests have been built into a new version of our award-winning court case information system -- all of you know it as Case.net. We hope that you appreciate the new changes. We also hope that this is only the start in this collaborative effort – we again ask that you visit the Missouri Courts booth this year and give us your ideas about how to use technology and the Internet so we can continue to offer those things that will make a difference in the lives of those we serve.
In conclusion, I merely want to say that while much remains to be done, and many unseen challenges may arise to meet us as we continue on our journey to improve the practice of law in this state, let us not forget to look back and thank those who have brought us to where we are. I am thankful to each of you – from the president of the Bar to every solo practitioner in this state – for your service, your dedication and your unwavering support four our profession. Your contributions will not soon be forgotten.
Thank you for listening.