Blunt appoints Atchison County judge to Mo. Supreme Court

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 | 6:13 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY —Atchison County Associate Circuit Judge Zel Fischer was appointed to the Missouri Supreme Court on Wednesday, capping an ascension from a rural attorney to a trial judge to the state's highest court in less than two years.

Gov. Matt Blunt picked Fischer from a slate of three finalists submitted to him by a special judicial nominating panel. The Republican governor said Fischer, also a Republican, shares his strict constitutional philosophy.

"I believe he will benefit the Supreme Court by taking it in a direction grounded on constitutional principle and less attached to personal policy preferences," Blunt said in a written statement announcing Fisher's appointment.

Fischer will replace Supreme Court Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. — considered a model judge by Blunt and other conservatives — who resigned in July to accept a federal judgeship. The state Supreme Court has seven members.

The other two finalists for the vacancy were Lisa White Hardwick and Ronald Holliger, both judges on the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District who had been appointed by Democratic governors.

Fischer, 45, of Tarkio, was elected an associate judge in November 2006 after working in private legal practice since 1989. For most of that time, Fischer ran his own general law firm based in Rock Port that handled such things as serious criminal cases, personal injury lawsuits, adoptions and estate planning.

Last December, Fischer was one of the finalists passed over when Blunt instead appointed Kansas City-area attorney Alok Ahuja to a vacancy on the Western District appellate court.

Whereas Fischer ran for election under a party label, judges on Missouri's appellate courts and certain urban courts are appointed by the governor after a special screening committee narrows down a list of applicants. The appointed judges then undergo periodic retention elections in which voters decide whether to keep them.

Blunt and some other Republicans have been critical of the secretive nominating process, claiming that trial attorneys have an inordinate amount of influence on the panels and that the nominees have occasionally not matched Blunt's conservative judicial philosophy.

One group critical of the judicial selection process had urged Blunt to reject all three of the latest nominees, which, under Missouri's system, would have resulted in the selection panel making the final decision.

Blunt said Wednesday that Fischer "was certainly the closest" of the three finalists to his philosophy to "apply our constitution and laws as they are written."

"He also has the right judicial temperament and a humility that I believe is important to bring to a position in which one often has the last say," Blunt said.

Fischer was born in Hamburg, Iowa, site of the nearest hospital to the rural northwest Missouri town of Watson, where his parents lived at the time. His first job out of high school was at a local beef packing plant, where he pushed swinging meat to a fabrication cooler and stacked boxes of packaged meat.

He also worked briefly as a car salesman in Kansas City after earning his undergraduate degrees in philosophy and political science at William Jewell College. Fischer got married in 1985 and graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City law school in 1988. He worked as a law clerk for Missouri Supreme Court Judge Andrew Jackson Higgins before going into private practice.

Fischer and his wife, Julie Ann Fischer, have four children who are students in either high school or college.

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