JEFFERSON CITY, MISSOURI – In her last big speech as chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, Patricia Breckenridge gave the State of the Judiciary speech on Jan. 24 to the Missouri General Assembly, discussing the progress of the court system, new appointments and future plans.
Breckenridge started her address by appreciating the 3,400 employees of the courts system and pointing to the state employees as being the lowest paid in the nation.
“I know budget times are tight, but we must find a way to pay them 21st-century wages for 21st-century work,” she said.
Breckenridge also went on to highlight the more than 1.8 million cases that were filed in the Missouri courts in 2016. According to Breckenridge, 60 percent involved municipal ordinance violations, and 17 percent of the cases were civil, including 5 percent that were tort claims.
While Breckenridge acknowledged that many in the General Assembly wanted changes to the laws governing many of the cases that are bought before the Missouri Supreme Court, she was quick to say, “Do not view these calls for action as a condemnation of our judicial system.
“Our citizens can be proud of our courts, where they can go to resolve their disputes peaceably and where their constitutional rights are protected,” she said. “Day in and day out, in the courtrooms in your communities, hundreds of thousands of cases are adjudicated without fanfare. We, more than anyone, want our courts to live up to their responsibilities to properly administer justice.”
Breckenridge also outlined the consolidation of many courts across Missouri to reduce costs, which may not be realized for a time as the state caps the number of municipalities a judge may serve. She also discussed municipal division monitors and criticisms of the juvenile division, stating that, “Missouri has never been afraid to lead, and this state decided long ago our juvenile system should be different that other states.”
Another goal of the courts that Breckenridge mentioned was the improvement of pretrial incarceration practices that prevent those who are poor from posting bond. A task force was appointed to the issue and will examine the practices of other states in this regard.
Treatment courts were also discussed during Breckenridge’s address, where work is being done by a Supreme Court committee to improve the access and quality of these courts in Missouri.
“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.
Lastly, Breckenridge spoke about the Missouri Supreme Court vacancy to be filled after the passing of Judge Richard Teitelman. She encouraged the public to apply and said interviews will be held at the end of February. She also commented on appointment of Betsy AuBuchon to the Missouri Supreme Court after succeeding Bill Thompson, saying, “She has earned our respect and trust, and we are confident she will be an exceptional leader for the Missouri’s judicial system.”