Panel to announce three finalists for high court job

Friday, September 3, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:45 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Today, a non-partisan panel is expected to announce three finalists to fill a vacancy on the Missouri Supreme Court.

On Thursday, the Appellate Judicial Commission met with 22 applicants for the position, which was left open after President Bush appointed Judge Duane Benton to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The seven members of the commission — made up of Chief Justice Ronnie White, three attorneys from Missouri’s regional appellate districts and three “lay” individuals – are scheduled to interview each candidate. The interviews will continue today before the commission meets to choose the three finalists.

Although court rules prohibit the release of personal information about the applicants, Supreme Court spokeswoman Beth Riggert said 15 men and seven women are vying for the position. Two of the applicants are minorities, she said.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday that among the applicants is Mary Rhodes Russell, a judge on the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals and a graduate of the MU School of Law.

Applicants have submitted a resume, writing samples and references to the chief justice. They must be 30 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least 15 years and a qualified Missouri voter for at least nine years. Applicants also must be licensed to practice law in Missouri.

The application states “the aspiration of lawyers for judicial position should be governed by an impartial estimate of their ability to add honor to the office and not by a desire for the distinction the position may bring to themselves.” The process also prohibits candidates from campaigning for appointment.

The three attorneys on the Appellate Judicial Commission were appointed to the panel by regional bar associations. Gov. Bob Holden appointed the three lay members.

Each applicant interviews privately with each commission member.

Under the Missouri Constitution, Holden must choose one of the three finalists within 60 days. Otherwise, the commission would choose one of the finalists.

The judge selected will serve until an election in November 2006. If the judge is not retained by voters, the commission would accept applications for a replacement.

Until the new judge is seated, special judges will fill the vacancy, Riggert said. The first hearing of the court’s fall term is scheduled for Wednesday morning, when Charles Blackmar, a judge who retired in 1992, will serve as special judge. Michael Calvin, a circuit judge, will fill the spot on Wednesday afternoon; Nancy Rahmeyer, of the Southern District Court of Appeals, will fill the spot on Thursday.

Benton left the court after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1991, Benton recently joined a majority of the court in upholding the Missouri General Assembly’s legalization of concealed weapons and joined a dissent against the court’s decision that executing individuals younger than 18 is unconstitutional.

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