Missouri chief justice calls for criminal code reform, explains new court technology

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 | 5:34 p.m. CST; updated 8:30 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 22, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — Chief Justice Mary Rhodes Russell used her State of the Judiciary address Wednesday morning to the General Assembly to explain how the courts are using technology to make the judicial process more effective and efficient.

"Our time to do good here is limited," she said.

To streamline the judicial process, Russell said the courts are actively embracing technology. An electronic filing system will make them almost paperless in 2014, and now every courthouse has a dedicated computer that people can use to research cases. 

The Boone County Courthouse will officially bring its electronic filing system online Feb. 3.

The chief justice welcomed the legislature's proposal to overhaul the state's criminal code, pointing to what she considered oddly equal sentences as evidence for change. Under the current code, she said, killing someone in a drunken-driving accident yields the same amount of prison time as writing a bad check under $500 — seven years.

Changes to the criminal code passed the House in 2013, but Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, did not bring them to a vote because senators wanted more time to review them.

Russell also talked about the courts' role in being accountable to taxpayers. Letting some people stay at home instead of keeping them in jail before trials saves counties money, and video conferencing cuts down on transportation costs, she said.

In her 18th year in the judiciary, Russell said she learned a lot by visiting other Missouri courts dressed undercover in civilian clothes. Every case is the most important one to those involved, she said.

After a December trip to Caruthersville in southeast Missouri, Russell invited members from the after-school program of the Divine Holiness Outreach Ministry to attend her State of the Judiciary address.

The goal of the program is to help prepare young men and women for the future, Pastor Jamie Jones said.

Tavauna Cobb, who has been with the program for more than four years, said she enjoyed traveling to the Capitol and spent part of Tuesday with the chief justice. Cobb said she found Russell's speech inspiring.

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