WHAT OTHERS SAY: Outgoing Judge Price acts to affirm court plan

Thursday, June 7, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:21 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 7, 2012

Missouri Supreme Court Judge William Ray Price Jr.'s resignation was more than an announcement — it was a statement.

In his letter of resignation, Price wrote: "I want my successor to be appointed by the same Missouri non-partisan merit plan that has served our state so well over the past 70 years."

That plan might be altered when Missouri voters go to the polls Nov. 6 to decide if the governor will have greater power in determining the makeup of the commission that nominates judges.

The ballot issue is a result of legislation promoted by court-plan critics who contend lawyers, specifically the Missouri Trial Attorney Association, exercise too much influence over nominations.

The proposed change would shift influence to the governor, who eventually would appoint four of the seven panel members.

Proponents argue the change has merit because the governor is accountable to the people. Opponents counter that the change would increase the potential to politicize the process.

Price obviously has strong feelings on the issue, and he is willing not only to voice them, but to act.

Such leadership is not out of character for Price.

A 20-year veteran of the high court, including two terms as chief justice, Price was among the early champions of drug courts.

The specialty court has proven its merit in steering alcoholics and addicts to recovery, rather than warehousing them in prisons at much greater cost to taxpayers.

Price also has championed alternative sentencing to improve cost efficiency in the state’s corrections system. He summed up his approach concisely when he observed: "We were tough on crime, but we were not smart on crime."

During the past two decades, Price has been sensible about sentencing and active rather than what critics call activist.

His approach to justice consistently has been thoughtful. Part of his legacy is asking Missouri voters to be the same.

Copyright Jefferson City News Tribune. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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