JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – For the second time in two months, interviews are underway in Missouri’s capital city to fill the vacant seat on the state’s highest court.
More than 20 people have applied to be Missouri’s next Supreme Court judge. Under the state’s nonpartisan court plan, members of the Appellate Judicial Commission will interview all applicants and then send the names of the three finalists to the governor, who will make the appointment. All but one of the applicants interviewed in August for the previous vacancy, which is why the commission is abbreviating interviews.
“We have allotted seven minutes for each applicant to tell us whatever they want us to hear,” Chief Justice Mary Russell said as the applicants came into the interview room Monday.
The vacancy comes after Judge Patricia Breckenridge retired earlier this month following a constitutional requirement that judges must step down when they turn 70. Breckenridge was appointed to the bench in 2007 by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.
“I will be that voice,” attorney David Roland told the commission. “I have shown throughout my entire career that I have a commitment to making sure the constitution is understood and applied the way that citizens intended it to be.”
It’s up to the judicial commission to interview the 22 applicants. Supreme Court judges must be at least 30 years old, have a Missouri law license, be a U.S. citizen for at least 15 years and a qualified Missouri voter for at least nine years.
“I think making sure people are educated and understand that the judges are bound by the law, that they read and interpret and apply the laws as written and the folks across the street, they get to make the decisions on what the laws should be,” Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a candidate for the position, said during his interview. “I do think I can bring a lot of public awareness about the role of this branch of government to the legislative branch.”
Luetkemeyer, a Republican from Parkville, told the commission he started his career after law school clerking for Breckenridge.
“I can think of no more fitting way to honor her legacy to continue my passion for public service and law than to replace her on the Supreme Court,” Luetkemeyer said.
Last month, Gov. Mike Parson appointed Judge Kelly Broniec to the state’s highest court to replace Judge George Draper III who retired in August, the day before his 70th birthday. During his announcement, Parson said politics didn’t play a role in his decision.
“It’s about who really knows it and who will go in there and read the law and enforce the law as written, not on their opinions,” Parson said in September. “I look at judges that I feel like will do that and will be fair to Missouri citizens regardless where they come from.”
Parson did suggest he would like to fill the vacancy with an applicant from downstate.
“I would love to pick someone from southwest Missouri,” Parson said. “That’s where I’m from and it’s been a long time since we’ve had a Supreme Court judge from that area.”
Of the 22 applicants, five are employed outside the Kansas City, Springfield and St. Louis metropolitan areas, 16 of them work in the public sector, three work in the private sector and three work in both. Of those in the public sector, 14 are judges. The applicants’ mean age is 47.5 years.
“I think we are at a time when it’s important to cultivate and maintain and nurture the public’s confidence in all of the institutions of our society, including the judiciary, including Missouri,” Chief Judge for the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District told the panel.
Representing the southern part of the state, Goodman said he agrees it’s time to pick someone from downstate, but it’s also important the commission pick the best candidate for the job.
“I think there could be a risk that if for too long of a period of time, the people of the 44 southern counties of our state look at our highest court and our selection process, and it’s not yielding anyone from those 44 southern counties, they may begin to have some questions, but still, it’s most important you select your best candidate,” Goodman said.
The one applicant who did not meet with the panel back in August, will be given more time for his interview.
The commission will send the names of the three finalists to the governor by Tuesday night, who then will have 60 days to choose a replacement from the list or the commission will fill the vacancy.
Here is the list of applicants:
Megan B. Benton
Becky J.W. Borthwick
R. Craig Carter
Sarah A. Castle
Thomas C. Clark II
Stephen S. Davis
Michael E. Gardner
Kenneth R. Garrett III
Ginger K. Gooch
Jack A.L. Goodman
Jennifer R. Growcock
Joseph B. Kloecker Jr.
Christopher K. Limbaugh
Anton H. Luetkemeyer
Shaun J. Mackelprang
Jeffery T. McPherson
David E. Roland
Cristian M. Stevens
John P. Torbitzky
David T. Tunnell
Stanley J. Wallach
Grant W. Wobig