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Missouri chief justice delivers State of the Judiciary speech

Photo courtesy of Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications

Speaking to a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly in Jefferson City, Supreme Court of Missouri Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge delivered the State of the Judiciary Address on Jan. 27. After providing a brief introduction on her background, Breckenridge – who was appointed to the high court in 2007 and has served as chief justice since July 2015 – discussed a variety of judicial issues, including bias, the use of technology in legal matters, and juvenile and substance abuse treatment courts.

Breckenridge opened by noting the importance of respect in the court system.

“Missouri citizens must have faith and trust – that in our courts they will be treated respectfully and fairly and that their cases will be decided impartially according to the law.”

But not all courts, Breckenridge noted, have proven to be true to Missouri’s system of justice. Citing recent reports from the Department of Justice regarding the municipal division in St. Louis County and the St. Louis County juvenile division, the chief justice highlighted the actions the legislature has taken “in response to the problems demonstrated by events in Ferguson,” the need for the Supreme Court to reexamine its supervision of municipal divisions, and the efforts the Court has made to identify and address bias – including a Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness that was established in October and implicit bias training that will be incorporated in this year’s education programs for judges.

“We are committed to ensuring every individual in every case in our system of justice is treated with respect and every case is adjudicated fairly and impartially under the law,” Breckenridge said. “Even a perception that justice is contingent on the color of one’s skin or the part of the state one comes from should concern us all, no matter who we are or where we live.”

The chief justice noted there is a proud history of finding successful solutions to challenges, using the past task of incorporating technology in legal matters as an example.

Breckenridge added that while it was an issue in previous years, Missouri has since become a national leader in automated case management and that, by June, every judicial circuit will have electronic filing of cases documents. Additionally, Breckenridge said an enhancement to the already-popular Case.net website will allow parties and the public to be notified of activity in a particular case. These and other technological advances, Breckenridge said, produce data that helps serve Missourians, including information about the effects of unresolved childhood trauma on the risk of a child committing delinquent acts.

Breckenridge also touched on the success of substance abuse treatment court models in Missouri.

“As you know, our adult, juvenile and family drug courts change the trajectory of lives from addiction and crime to being productive citizens, while saving money by reducing the prison population,” Breckenridge said.

The chief justice then announced a collaboration between the Missouri House of Representatives and the Supreme Court that will work to identify best practices and explore the expansion of treatment courts – an effort supported by Erik Bergmanis as part of his agenda as 2015-16 president of The Missouri Bar.

“I’m thrilled to see the legislature, the court and state bar come together to address this important issue,” Bergmanis said. “Increasing equal access to drug and DWI courts is an essential step toward improving access to justice for all Missourians, and I look forward to assisting in this effort.”

Breckenridge concluded the address with a call to continue improving the state’s courts.

“We should be especially proud of the level of cooperation and communication between the legislature and the judiciary,” the chief justice said. “Our work together in the areas of treatment and juvenile courts and technology should be a standard for our interactions every day. Let’s continue to make our Missouri courts even better.”

A full transcript of the 2016 State of the Judiciary is available at courts.mo.gov.

Photo courtesy of Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications

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