Our Opinion: Incoming chief justice sets prudent priorities

Congratulations to Missouri Supreme Court Judge Mary R. Russell, who will ascend to the role of chief justice on Monday.

The duties of the chief justice primarily are administrative, ceremonial and instructional.

As administrator of the state judicial system, the chief justice shuffles more papers, delivers more speeches and helps demystify the often convoluted labyrinth of law.

Russell is more than equal to the task, and we support her priorities as chief justice. They include:

• Providing civics education to help the public understand the role of the judiciary, the third branch of government.

Her interest in education is well established. Working with local educators and a local Rotary Club, Russell initiated a student court at Lewis and Clark Middle School to focus on attendance, attentiveness and accountability.

• Working with local courts to establish and expand “specialty” courts that focus on offenses connected with alcoholism, drug addiction, veterans issues, etc.

Regular readers of this forum are aware of our steadfast support for specialty courts, which have proved their worth in transforming lives and saving tax dollars.

• Expanding electronic filing and online availability. Again, accessibility continues to dissolve the veil that traditionally has obscured the public’s view of court operations and procedures.

Each of these priorities remains separate from Russell’s role as a judge. Like her peers, she accurately perceives judicial duties as “apolitical” and a “team approach.”

Regarding partisanship, she said: “Judges are not to be politicians — and we are not.”

And concerning the seven-member court, she explained: “It takes four votes to make any changes around here or to rule on anything; it takes four votes to have a majority in a case and it takes four votes to change a parking space.”

Mary R. Russell will bring to the job of chief justice the intelligence, experience, attitude and energy she has demonstrated as both lawyer and judge.

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