Missouri’s next Supreme Court Chief Justice wants more people to understand the court system…and to have access to it.
Laura Denvir Stith, St. Louis-raised, a lawyer from Kansas City, has been on the Supreme Court for six years. She’s the second woman chief justice in 186 years of state history.
She wants to keep working to improve civic education, finding many people don’t know how the court system operates, even to the point of not knowing juries are not used at the Supreme Court level.
She worries about the crisis in the Public Defender system, where the need to represent indigent people charged with crimes far outweighs the personnel or resources the state provides. And she says the Legal Aid system, which provides help for poor peopole needing help with civil cases also is badly under-funded.
She says many people cannot afford lawyers…leaving them to try to represent themselves. She says people often show up in courts with form divorce kits or other kits found on the internet, some costing more than the cost of hiring a lawyer. Stith says the legal system needs to help people avoid being fooled into believing they can handle complex cases themselves.
Members of the Supreme Court choose one of their number to be the Chief Justice every two years. Stith replaces Michael Wolff, who remains a judge on the court, which has seven members. The court will change during her term. At least one judge, Ronnie White, already has announced his departure.