Chief Justice Wilson highlights continued cooperation in 2022 State of the Judiciary
Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson speaks to lawmakers during the 2022 State of the Judiciary at the State Capitol. Photos by Tim Bommel.
Missouri Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson Tuesday morning called for continued cooperation among the three branches of government to best serve Missourians in his State of the Judiciary address to the Missouri Legislature. Market-based compensation for state employees, court security, technology in the courtroom, and expanding access to veterans’ courts were also key topics.
Market-based compensation for state employees, court security, technology in the courtroom, and expanding access to veterans’ courts were key topics Tuesday morning when Missouri Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson presented his State of the Judiciary.
During his address to a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly at the State Capitol, Wilson began by discussing how the concept of separation of powers between the three branches of government can be “misleading.”
“Separate does not mean adversarial, and it never has. In truth, our constitution demands just the opposite,” Wilson said. “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 recalled memories of growing up in Jefferson City and the early importance of public service in his life. His father served as a judge in the municipal and associate circuit courts, and his mother worked in public health.
Wilson remembered accidentally knocking Senator Jack Danforth off his feet at the skating rink as a child, saying that growing up in the state’s capital city taught him that even statewide office holders are just regular people.
“I grew up believing that government is people – well-meaning, hardworking people – and I believe that still today,” Wilson said. “We all have different jobs, and we serve in different ways, but we are united in the spirit and goal of service.”
Wilson noted the resolution of more than 750, 000 circuit court cases last year, despite the difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic caused to judicial employees. Although the pandemic impacted the circuit courts’ backlog of cases, state employees are still working to clear it.
Wilson thanked lawmakers for the recent cost-of-living increases adopted for state employees but emphasized that a market-based approach to state employee compensation is needed to retain experienced workers and recruit new employees.
Wilson also noted the significant number of new judges in the trial and appellate courts, and introduced Judge Robin Ransom, the newest member of the Supreme Court of Missouri.
Speaking to the importance of court safety, Wilson reflected on the security changes courthouses have undergone in the past several decades. Although security has always been a priority, he said, risks to court employees continue to rise in and out of the courthouse.
“As public servants, we know we are not – and should not be – immune from public scrutiny and criticism. It comes with the job. But none of us – or our families – should be put in harm’s way,” Wilson said.
Wilson applauded Rep. Bruce DeGroot’s efforts to pass laws enhancing safety laws for judges as “a good start.”
In his address, Wilson recognized the increasing importance of online services both in courts and government during the past two years, when COVID-19 moved thousands of hearings online to virtual courtrooms. And although technology has increased access to justice for many, Wilson spoke of the “digital divide” and how access to online services can be limited by geography or poverty. He endorsed Gov. Mike Parson’s call for expanded broadband access across the state.
“Courts, whether virtual or in person, must be equally open and accessible for all Missourians, regardless of who you are or where you live,” Wilson said.
Wilson also touched on veterans courts and the need to help veterans who might find themselves in need of legal assistance. He said most veterans throughout Missouri don’t have access to the services they need, with veterans courts serving only a third of local jurisdictions.
“Now it’s time we do more,” he said, encouraging expansion of veterans courts across the state.
Wilson concluded his 2022 State of the Judiciary by reflecting on examples where Missouri’s three branches of government have cooperated to serve the public.
“Drug [treatment] courts have been one of the greatest collaborative successes showing what is possible when three branches work together with creativity and a commitment to serving Missourians better,” Wilson said.
He also called attention to the following programs which stem from cooperation across branches:
- “The Justice Reinvestment Initiative” led by the Department of Corrections
- “Partnership for Child Safety and Well-Being” led by the Department of Mental Health
- “Leading Change in Criminal Justice” initiative, which helps coordinate services for those struggling with mental health or substance abuse disorders.
He reflected on Missouri’s resilience throughout history, recalling the fire in 1911 that destroyed the capitol building. Rebuilding the capitol as it is now, he said, was “a monument to what Missouri can be and a challenge to those who would seek to lead in the future.”
Wilson closed by citing the importance of continued cooperation among the three branches of government to best serve the people of Missouri.
“There is no tomorrow for any of us that is not the tomorrow for all of us and that future will only be as bright as we make it,” Wilson said.
Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson was appointed to the Supreme Court in December 2012 and was retained by voters at the November 2014 general election for a 12-year term. He began his two-year term as Chief Justice on July 1, 2021. A full transcript of the 2022 State of the Judiciary is available at courts.mo.gov.