By Collin Reischman
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — You would be hard pressed to find many state organizations as recognizable or as pervasive as the Missouri Bar Association.
Created by the Supreme Court of Missouri in 1944, the Missouri Bar serves more than 30,000 of Missouri’s practicing attorneys and is one of the most powerful political organizations in the state.
And while they have had their hands in many issues, the Missouri Bar recently took on the daunting task of rewriting Missouri’s criminal code. Legislation sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia that would represent the largest single rewrite of the code since 1979 is the product of the Bar’s work.
“This legislation is a product of a specially appointed Missouri Bar committee that worked for more than four years to draft this proposal,” Cox said in a press release.
In an interview with The Missouri Times, Patrick Starke, president of the Missouri Bar Association, compared the changes to someone “cleaning up a workshop.”
“You’ve got all these tools and you take them off their rack on the wall and you use them and then you put them on the worktable,” Starke said. “This bill is going to pick those tools up and put them back where they belong, so the legislators and our legal system can get to theme easily.”
Currently, more than 30 types of assault charges exist in state law, Starke said. The new criminal code would reduce the number of assault charges by broadening the definitions of existing charges.
“The legislature does their job and adds new crimes and new restrictions to the code over the years,” Starke said. “But that can create, over time, a lot of disorganization. We need to codify and clarify the code, we need to become more efficient and reduce errors, because errors cost money.”
The Missouri Bar provided more than just recommendations for new legislation. Part of its mission, Starke said, is to provide legal counsel as well as a range of resources to the media, educators and the citizens of Missouri. Apart from maintaining MoBar Net, an online database, a lawyer referral service job opportunities for law students, and Informal Advisory Opinions, the Missouri Bar runs a dispute resolution program for individuals having disagreements with their attorneys.
“It’s a very significant program,” Starke said. “It’s a free service that will mediate a resolution between these parties before it can potentially escalate into something more serious.”
But at their core, the Missouri Bar works closely on legislation in Jefferson City and they have their eye on more than the criminal code. Starke told The Missouri Times that the Missouri Bar would be closely involved with any legislation designed to drastically restructure the public defender system, while their biggest focus is the criminal code.
“We aren’t buying new tools, we are just putting them where they belong, and that can take a lot of time and effort, but it has to be done sometimes,” Starke said.