JEFFERSON CITY — Judge George W. Draper III, who has served for the past 17 years as a trial and appellate judge in the St. Louis area, was appointed Wednesday to fill a vacancy on the Missouri Supreme Court.
Gov. Jay Nixon chose Draper from among three finalists to replace Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff, who resigned in August to resume teaching at the Saint Louis University School of Law.
Draper, 58, of Chesterfield, has served on the Court of Appeals' Eastern District since his appointment in 2000 by then-Gov. Mel. Carnahan. He previously was appointed by Carnahan as an associate circuit judge in 1994 and as circuit judge in 1998 in St. Louis County. Before becoming a judge, Draper worked for 10 years as a prosecutor in St. Louis County.
"Those decades of experience and his legal acumen will enable him to be an outstanding judge on the Missouri Supreme Court," Nixon said in a news release announcing Draper's appointment. "I am very pleased to be able to name this eminently qualified jurist to the state's highest court."
Under Missouri's judicial selection process, a special commission interviews applicants for vacancies on appellate courts and narrows the field to three nominees. The governor then can appoint one of them, who will later go before voters in a yes-or-no retention election. No judge appointed to the Supreme Court has been ousted in those elections.
The other two finalists for the seat given to Draper were Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners and Joe Jacobson, an attorney in St. Louis.
Draper said this was the first time he had applied for a Supreme Court vacancy.
"It was never a lifelong goal. I never thought I would find myself in this particular position," Draper said. "It's a matter of doing the job I had at each level and feeling I was qualified at that point and time to be viable to do the job at the next level."
Draper will be Missouri's second black Supreme Court judge, following Ronnie White, who served on the court from 1995 to 2007. Draper said White encouraged him to apply for the court. His appointment drew quick praise from the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus.
"While the Black Caucus is pleased that African-American representation has been restored to the Missouri Supreme Court after a long absence, we also believe that Judge Draper's experience as a prosecutor, trial judge and appellate judge made him the best possible choice for the job," said State Rep. Steve Webb, D-Florissant.
In addition to his job as a judge, Draper serves as an adjunct professor in trial advocacy at the Saint Louis University School of Law and was a member of a judicial commission that redrew the Missouri House and Senate districts after the 2000 census.
Draper was chosen in 2000 to serve as one of the replacement judges on the state's Supreme Court for a pair of cases related to Missouri's multi-billion dollar legal settlement with big tobacco companies. Five of the seven regular Supreme Court judges had recused themselves.
One of those rulings prevented the city of St. Louis, a hospital and several people representing tobacco users from intervening to claim a share of the state's settlement. The other ruling allowed the legal fees negotiated between then-Attorney General Nixon and the private lawyers who handled the suit to stand, so long as the Legislature didn't pass a bill altering them.
In his recent application for the Supreme Court, Draper stressed his variety of legal experiences. He listed major cases — both won and lost — as a prosecutor. As an appeals court judge, Draper said he has been involved in more than 1,700 cases and written more than 230 published opinions.
"I have developed insight dealing with a case from both sides of the bench — knowing what it is like to be an attorney advocating and presenting a case as well as listening to advocates and researching the law to articulate a decision and write an opinion," Draper wrote in his application.
The questionnaire asked Supreme Court applicants whether they have been convicted of or received a suspended imposition of sentence for any felony or misdemeanor charges in state, federal or military courts.
Draper wrote that he has not, but added that around 1974 he was fined and arrested while on spring break in the Bahamas for possessing a minor amount of marijuana. Upon his return home, Draper, then 20, wrote that he found himself in trouble with his father, an attorney. Draper wrote that his father "advised me that he would take care of this matter by having it removed from my record."
Draper graduated in 1977 from Morehouse College in Atlanta with a bachelor's degree in psychology. He received his law degree in 1981 from Howard University in Washington, D.C.