After six weeks of postponement due to snow — and amid the struggle to draw a congressional map — Chief Justice Paul Wilson delivered his address apprising the General Assembly about the state of Missouri’s judiciary Tuesday.
The tone of the address was aspirational and struck a bipartisan tone about public service.
“The concept of separation of powers is one of our constitutional cornerstones, but it can be misleading,” Wilson said. “Separate does not mean adversarial, and it never has. In truth, our constitution demands just the opposite. Despite the different roles we play in our system of checks and balances, all three branches must continually communicate and cooperate if we are to serve the constitution and the people well”
Wilson reminded the General Assembly that while it is easy to criticize the government, the people gathered in the chamber were, in fact, the government.
“You, me, and the nearly 50,000 other public servants who live and work in virtually every community in this state, we are the government. Government is people and, for today’s purposes, it’s us,” Wilson said.
Wilson said growing up in Jefferson City gave him a unique perspective on state government and included an interesting anecdote about accidentally knocking Jack Danforth off his feet at the skating rink.
“My dad helped him, and me, up, and then said to me: ‘You know who that is, don’t you?’ Well, of course, I didn’t … but I quickly learned and, senator, if you’re listening, please accept this very overdue apology,” Wilson said.
Wilson also assured the General Assembly that “the state of the judicial branch is sound.”
Last year, there were more than 750,000 circuit court cases resolved. While there remains a backlog from the pandemic still, the courts are on track to settle it this year.
He thanked the legislature for the cost-of-living increases in state employee pay it recently approved and said those increases would be key to retaining court employees. He advocated for a market-based approach to compensation in order to attract and keep courtroom staff.
He also cited the recent turnover in the judges, noting 40 percent of all the trial and appellate judges are new to their positions.
Wilson also joined Gov. Mike Parson’s call for the expansion of rural broadband which would also benefit the court system and touted the success of veterans’ courts in the state.
He finished by outlining some of the achievements of the past two years including the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, the Partnership for Child Safety and Well-Being, and the Leading Change in Criminal Justice initiative.
“I appreciated the update from the chief justice on the state of our state courts. I was happy to hear a message from the chief discussing respect for the legislature and separation of powers,” said Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.