The first woman to serve as a circuit judge in Missouri and the only woman to serve as a circuit judge in Missouri’s 13th Judicial Circuit announced Thursday that she will retire after her term expires Dec. 31.
Judge Ellen S. Roper, 65, became a circuit judge under the Court Reorganization Act of 1978 and has served as a circuit judge in the 13th Judicial Circuit of Missouri for the past 27 years. She was appointed probate judge in January 1976 by Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, who was then governor.
“It’s been a real challenge, and I guess I’m the kind of person who enjoys challenges,” Roper said. A job that is the same every day “would not be interesting to me,” she said.
“She’s handled some of the biggest cases in the circuit,” said 13th Judicial Circuit Presiding Judge Gene Hamilton. “She will be missed.”
Roper, a Republican, also has served as assistant attorney general and as both deputy and executive director of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.
She said she will not run for re-election next year because she would not be able to complete the six-year term due to the mandatory retirement provision of the Missouri Constitution.
Three of four circuit judgeships in the 13th Judicial Circuit will be up for grabs in 2006. Hamilton’s term expires Dec. 31, but the Republican judge who has served as a circuit judge in the 13th Judicial Circuit since 1982 said he plans to run for re-election. Roper’s position will be vacant, as will a new circuit judgeship with a two-year term starting in 2006.
Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane, a Republican, said he will run for 13th Judicial Circuit Judge next year.
“I’ve had the benefit of being in court with the excellent judges we have here, including Judge Roper,” Crane said. “I think it’s time for me to take on a new challenge.”
Deborah Daniels, special chief counsel with the Missouri Attorney General’s office and an adjunct professor of law at MU’s School of Law, said that she is considering running for circuit judge, but was not yet ready to announce her decision.
“Today should be Judge Roper’s day,” Daniels said. “She’s had so many years of great service.”
Roper said her career has been satisfying, challenging and interesting. Although she no longer will be on the bench full time, Roper already has made plans for what she will do after her retirement. She would like to work as a senior judge, a form of semi-retirement in which judges work part time. She said she would like to travel and spend time with her two grandchildren. Roper said she’d also like to help restore the historic Missouri Theatre.
A member of the Missouri Symphony Society Board of Directors, Roper said she hates to see paint peeling inside the old theater and wants to bring it back to life. “It would be a tragedy to let it die,” she said.
Roper said she was grateful to Bond, her family, her court reporter, Diana Taylor, her colleagues and the residents of Boone and Callaway counties for their support throughout her 30-year career as a judge.