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Missouri chief justice delivers State of the Judiciary Address

Photo courtesy of Tim Bommel

Supreme Court of Missouri Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge told Missouri’s lawmakers and statewide elected officials Tuesday that Missouri citizens can be proud of their courts. That message came as part of her 2017 State of the Judiciary Address which took place during a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly at the State Capitol in Jefferson City.

Breckenridge said recent calls to change laws regarding certain types of cases should not be viewed “as a condemnation of our judicial system,” noting that of the more than 1.8 million cases filed in Missouri courts, fewer than 1 percent involve tort claims such as wrongful death or personal injury.

“Day in and day out, in the courtrooms in your communities, hundreds of thousands of cases are adjudicated without fanfare,” she said. “We, more than anyone, want our courts to live up to their responsibilities to properly administer justice.”

Breckenridge commended the work of both the legislature and those who serve in local courthouses around the state, noting that court staff “every year, are asked to do more with less.”

The chief justice then focused on various issues around the state—and how the courts are working to tackle them. This included an overview of the recently implemented municipal court mandatory standards created in response to problems in some St. Louis County municipal divisions.

“Though the vast majority of our 625 municipal divisions function well, the challenge of problem municipal divisions in St. Louis County and elsewhere in the state became an opportunity to make all of our municipal divisions better,” she said. “While some say the standards don’t go far enough, others say they have gone too far. Some municipalities are finding it difficult to do what they should have been doing all along. But my years on the trial bench taught me if both sides are not totally satisfied, perhaps we got it right.”

Breckenridge also provided updates regarding changes to the state’s juvenile court—including the creation of uniform practices and procedures—and the ongoing work of the Supreme Court’s committee on treatment courts.

“Missouri is a national leader in developing quality treatment courts; however, we have not realized their full potential to reduce recidivism, produce productive citizens, reunify families, and address the needs of our veterans,” she said.

The chief justice also announced plans for a Supreme Court task force to examine current pretrial incarceration practices and determine opportunities for reform.

“Our cities and counties incur costs for pretrial incarceration of people who simply are poor,” Breckenridge said. “There are individual and societal consequences from these unwarranted pretrial incarcerations. The consequences impact the defendants, their families and, ultimately, the state. Defendants lose not only their freedom but also their ability to earn a living and to provide for loved ones. Children may even come into state custody because incarcerated parents are not home to care for them. And—after only three days in jail—the likelihood that an individual will commit future crimes also increases.”

Technology was also a focus in her speech. Breckenridge shared that, as of 2016, Missouri became the first state to have e-Filing in all courts of record. Additionally, improvements are continually being made to both Case.net and case management systems.

Breckenridge noted changes in Supreme Court leadership, including the appointment of Betsy AuBuchon as clerk, and took time to pay tribute to the late Judge Richard Teitelman, who died in November 2016.

“While we may not have always agreed in our legal opinions, we knew no friend more loyal or caring, and we miss him,” she said of Teitelman.

The process to fill Teitelman’s vacancy is now underway in accordance with The Missouri Plan. Breckenridge encouraged lawmakers and members of the public to nominate applicants for the position and to attend the applicant interviews, which are open to the public, set for Feb. 28 and March 1.

Breckenridge was appointed to the high court in 2007 and has served as chief justice since 2015. A full transcript of the 2017 State of the Judiciary is available at courts.mo.gov.

Photo courtesy of Tim Bommel

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