Supreme Court of Missouri celebrates investiture of Judge Robin Ransom
The Supreme Court of Missouri’s newest judge, Judge Robin Ransom, celebrated her formal investiture this morning in a ceremony in the Division I courtroom of the Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City. Judge James M. Dowd – a judge of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District – served as master of ceremonies and administered the oath of office. Ransom has been serving on the Court for nearly a year.
Six people – including Governor Michael L. Parson – spoke to more than 160 guests, overflowing from the main courtroom to an auxiliary courtroom. Ransom’s daughter Ryan and son Alex assisted with the robing. Speakers consistently praised Ransom’s humility, using her oft-repeated phrase that she is “just Robin.”
Dowd opened the event by jokingly accusing Ransom of pulling a “bait and switch” on him, first asking him to “do the great honor of swearing her in today” and later telling him he also would be speaking and serving as master of ceremonies. But he also stressed she “never would think of herself as a big shot ... or a diva.” Dowd described Ransom’s “belly laugh,” noting how easily her “great smile and great laugh” emerge, especially if she thinks people are taking themselves too seriously. He also spoke of her character, explaining her parents – her father, the late LeVert Ransom, a career firefighter in St. Louis, and her mother, Adell Ransom – instilled in all four of their children a strong sense of self-worth, independence and humility, teaching them their worth comes from within and not in what others might think of them.
“Robin Ransom is a very bright woman with impeccable analytical skills,” Dowd said. “It is no wonder she became a commissioner and a circuit judge and a judge on the court of appeals and now the Supreme Court. We have Governor Parson to thank, and the entire citizenry of Missouri can reap the benefits.”
Parson appointed Ransom to the Court in May 2021, just three days after the Appellate Judicial Commission nominated her pursuant to article V, section 25 of the Missouri Constitution. He said he had been watching Ransom’s career since 2019, when he appointed her to the court of appeals. He praised her character and her upbringing and said it was an “honor and privilege to be able to appoint the Honorable Robin Ransom to the Supreme Court.”
In appointing judges – especially those on the Supreme Court of Missouri – Parson said “it is important to get it right” and to select “the best of the best” because of the important job judges do in making decisions for the people of Missouri every day.
“At some point, you are going to affect people’s lives, who you’re never going to know and never going to see, and it’s important to get it right,” Parson said.
Although he is glad Ransom is the first Black woman on the state’s highest court, Parson said he believes “we are all brothers and sisters” and stressed Ransom’s race was not a factor in his selection of her for the Court: “She got picked because she was the right person for the job.”
“With Robin, it’s never just about her but about family as her foundation,” Parson explained. “Meeting her mom for the first time, it isn’t hard to see why Robin is the way she is today,” adding her parents clearly taught her how to work hard, respect people, and stand up for what she believes in while still doing what the law requires her to do as a judge. He spoke about the foundation laid by our ancestors; how the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been passed down through the generations to us; and how it is important to “get the right people in place to pass all that along to the next generation” “so the American Dream can stay in place.”
Representing Ransom’s family as a speaker was her aunt – Donna White, an attorney and lifelong public servant whose positions over her career included administrative law judge in the workers’ compensation system, director of the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity, and member of the state’s probation and parole board. She said Ransom brings to the Court “a huge intellect” and would be a “wise friend” who is independent, principled, kind, thorough and honorable.
“Robin has demonstrated her commitment to her principles throughout her career,” White said. “She exemplifies the best of her heritage. ... There are no words to express how much this moment means to her family and all those who love Robin.”
Judge Thomas Frawley, a senior judge who served many years on the 22nd Judicial Circuit (St. Louis city) and in its family court division, said his path first crossed with Ransom in 2002 when she was appointed as a family court commissioner in his circuit, noting they bonded over a shared passion for children in foster care. He said Ransom’s reaction to doubts within the legal community as to whether a large metropolitan court would be able to meet time standards for cases involving children in foster care was “game on.” He added the circuit did, in fact, meet those time standards when they were serving together in the circuit’s family court division.
“Robin is a good lawyer, thoughtful, with good instincts; a good judge; a concerned parent; a caring daughter; a loyal sibling ...; and just a good person ... a person you’re honored and proud to call your colleague ... and your friend,” Frawley said before remarking about Ransom’s appointment to the state’s highest court: “Good things do happen to good people.”
Commissioner Michael Walton, a family court commissioner in the 22nd circuit, said he met Ransom when he was in private practice and served as appointed counsel for parents in care and neglect cases in Ransom’s courtroom. He described those dockets as “extremely stressful” – going from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with time only for a sandwich and some chips – but said Ransom expected the attorneys appearing before her to be as prepared as she was.
“She would remember all the details about the parents and the kids, and the kids loved it,” Walton said. “She always made the courtroom pleasant for attorneys, litigants and staff, and my clients always left feeling heard, regardless of the outcome. ... She is patient to no end.”
Approximately 45 minutes into the ceremony, Dowd called forward Ransom’s son and daughter to hold the Bible while he administered the oath of office to their mother. They then helped her into her robe to a standing ovation.
Acknowledging she normally is not one for fanfare and would rather not be the focus of so much attention, Ransom told the audience: “I really underestimated the importance of what today means to my family and the state. And so I am going to relish today, and I am thankful for it. ... [But] I was born Robin Michelle Ransom. You won’t see ‘judge’ on my birth certificate. While I am appreciative of the job and the title, neither of those will ever define who I am as a person.”
In recognizing her family, she told the audience how much she thinks about her father and said, “Each day I strive to be the person he would want me to be.” Ransom’s father died in September 2007, one year before she was appointed to be a circuit judge. She thanked her three older siblings – sister Stephanie and brothers Fred and Mike – for being role models for her, and she thanked her children, whom she described as “two awesome kids.”
She said she is inspired by Helen Keller’s words – “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet” – explaining she has learned to be happy with whatever she has, to live her own life, and to help others while not letting them define her.
“I’ve been me a long time,” she said. “I don’t need help running ‘me.’ ... I’m self-reliant, confident, stoic, unflappable ... and somewhat of a loner,” noting she stays focused on where she needs to be.
One of Ransom’s passions outside the law is bowling “with people who don’t care about my job” – an avocation stemming from when she was 11 years old and her parents put her on a bus to travel from north St. Louis to bowl in south St. Louis, an experience she credits with helping to teach her independence. (But she once noted she discovered her father following the bus in his car to make sure she arrived safely at the bowling alley.) Another is singing – sparking an apology to Judge W. Brent Powell, with whose chambers hers shares a wall in the Supreme Court Building, and a revelation that she once wanted to be a rock star.
Quoting liberally from her favorite songs, Ransom explained the life lessons she takes from the lyrics of her play list, which includes: “Thank You,” a gospel song of praise by Walter Hawkins; “Started From the Bottom,” by Drake (to whose music she said her children introduced her); “Never Would Have Made It,” by Marvin Sapp; “One Moment in Time,” by Whitney Houston; “Dancing Queen,” by ABBA; “Under Pressure,” by Queen; and “Smile,” by Judy Garland.
In closing, Ransom said she only wants to be healthy and happy, noting happiness is primarily a choice ... finding happiness in small things around us every day – whether it’s a sunrise or sunset, or a latte with a heart in the foam, or an Agatha Christie mystery novel, or a movie from the 1930s or 1940s, or even a Three Stooges rerun (with Curly rather than Joe or Shemp).
“We grow neither better or worse as we get old, but more like ourselves,” Ransom said, quoting American financier Bernard Baruch.
St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts – an ordained minister who delivered both the invocation and benediction – said he had known Ransom since she was about 4 or 5 years old, as his best friend lived just a few doors away from her parents, and she later was a student in his Sunday school class.
“She’s been amazing all the time I’ve known her, Betts said. “We are blessed to have Robin Ransom as our Supreme Court judge.”
After Ransom joined her colleagues on the bench, Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson spoke on behalf of the Court: “We’ve had a unique opportunity to see Judge Ransom up close for almost a year as she has taken on the challenges and the burdens of this job, the challenges of the issues presented and the weight of those issues, and the weight of the responsibilities that come with this job. I tell you from the bottom of my heart – and I think I speak for all my colleagues – when I say ...: She is easy to admire ... and we do. She is easy to respect ... and we do. And she is easy to love ... and we do. We look forward to serving with her for many years, and we will strive to live up to the example she sets.”
Ransom joined the Court May 24, 2021. Born and raised in the city of St. Louis, she earned college credits from both St. Louis Community College’s Forest Park Campus and Saint Louis University before graduating from Rosati-Kain High School in St. Louis. She earned her bachelor of arts in political science and sociology in 1988 from Douglass Residential College at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick, and her law degree in 1991 from the University of Missouri Columbia School of Law.
She worked at the St. Louis County public defender’s office from 1992 to 1995, then at the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office from 1995 to 1996. She joined the St. Louis County family court in 1996 as a staff attorney and, in 2002, was appointed a commissioner of the St. Louis circuit court’s juvenile division. Ransom was appointed circuit judge in St. Louis in 2008 and, in January 2019, she was appointed to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District.
Ransom now divides her time between her office in Jefferson City and her home in St. Louis.