11:03 AM

2021 Spurgeon Smithson Award recipients named

Missouri judge, lawyer, law professor recognized for outstanding service

Judge Laura Denvir Stith, S. David Mitchell, and Richard Steele were honored with The Missouri Bar Foundation’s 2021 Spurgeon Smithson Awards. 

Established in 1976, the Spurgeon Smithson Awards recognize judges, law teachers, and/or lawyers who have provided outstanding services toward the increase and diffusion of justice. The Missouri Bar Foundation Board of Trustees selects the recipients, and each award recipient receives a $2,000 stipend. 

Stith provided nearly 27 years of judicial service before retiring from the Supreme Court of Missouri in March 2021 – where she was the Court’s longest-serving judge, at two decades of service. She was also the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court of Missouri and as its chief justice, from July 2007 through June 2009. A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C., she currently serves as a senior judge for Missouri.  

Stith said there is no award she could treasure more than the Spurgeon Smithson Award since her goal as a judge is to provide and spread equal justice. She added her $2,000 award stipend will be donated to the Brennan Center for Justice, in her name, so the center can “use that money to further protect the right to justice by supporting democracy and the rule of law.” 

“There are (individuals) who either don’t believe the laws are being applied fairly, or who do not wish them to be applied fairly and seek to bend them to their will,” Stith said. “The courts have shown themselves to be a fair forum in which these grievances can be heard and determined. And helping spread faith in justice and the rule of law is an important reason why I became a judge in the first place.” 

Mitchell is a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law and founding co-director of the Michael A. Middleton Center for Race, Citizenship and Justice. Mitchell previously served as the associate dean for academic affairs, as well as the chair of the University of Missouri System on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force and the University of Missouri Advisory Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.  

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, Mitchell said he is humbled to receive the award and believed it represented service and dedication to others. He recognized those who were unable to practice law or attend law school due to their race, adding he teaches at the law school as an honor to those individuals’ sacrifices. 

“I find the teaching of the law to be a privilege and am humbled and thankful to be able to train the next generation of lawyers who will fight for justice and continue to open doors for others,” he said. “As I tell my students, I would not (be) able to stand in the front of the classroom were it not for the lawyers who assisted their clients in breaking down barriers.” 

Steele graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law and has practiced law in Cape Girardeau for more than 50 years. He has served on The Missouri Bar Young Lawyers’ Section Council, the Board of Governors, and The Bar Plan Board of Directors. He also received the Lon O. Hocker Award for trial advocacy in 1977.  

Steele said he is honored to receive the Spurgeon Smithson Award and encouraged fellow bar members to continue broadening their legal knowledge. 

“Despite being in an age of increasing specialization, I would still urge young lawyers to familiarize themselves with multiple areas of practice,” he said. “I also urge them to involve themselves and give time to bar-related activities for the betterment of the profession.” 

Click here to learn more about annual awards presented by The Missouri Bar Foundation.