Russell touts criminal code revision

Missouri’s courts remain focused on improving the ways technology is used, Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Russell told lawmakers Wednesday.

“We spent more than a decade deploying our case management system statewide,” she said during her 20-minute State of the Judiciary address. “It was complete by 2008, and it empowers you and the public to use to search for information about cases filed anywhere in the state.”

And she asked the Legislature to approve the proposed, nearly 800-page rewrite of Missouri’s criminal code.

“Our current criminal code has some discrepancies calling into question the concept of ‘if you do the crime, you’ll do the time,’” Russell explained. “For example, if a person drives a vehicle while intoxicated and kills someone, that person may be punished by up to seven years in the state prison.

“But that is the same punishment for a person who writes a bad check for less than $500. Is that being smart on crime?”

She noted the proposed rewrite comes nearly 40 years after lawmakers launched a similar effort, resulting in the current collection of criminal laws that went into effect in 1979.

Russell said the courts are updating technology as quickly as they can.

“About two years ago, we began changing from paper filings to electronic filings,” Russell explained. “Today, the Missouri eFiling System is being used in every appellate court and 28 trial courts — with another 30 courts ready to come online later this year.”

Cole County’s circuit court is scheduled to begin using the system in April.

“I love eFiling,” state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, an attorney, said after the speech. “It is much easier for attorneys, and for ordinary people who have cases going on.”

During the speech, Russell said the changes help all of government.

“For instance, our court technology allows the judiciary and various state agencies and county officials to share information,” she said. “This cooperation and coordination ensures that offenders can be apprehended more quickly, that people who are granted orders of protection can be kept safer, and that more child support payments and court fines can be collected.

“The bottom line is that sharing this vital information helps to make all of government more effective and more efficient.”

State Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, said Russell “made a lot of very good points about the judiciary, and what we can do to make the courts better. As a practicing attorney, I was really pleased with a lot of the things she said.”

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, also has been an associate circuit judge. “I thought she was eloquent and business-like,” he said. “She creates a positive image of the judiciary — and that’s very important.”

Since the high court judges rotate the chief justice’s duties every two years, Wednesday’s speech was Russell’s first to the joint legislative session.

“This speech marks the 40th anniversary of the first state of the judiciary address in Missouri history, delivered then by Chief Justice Robert T. Donnelly,” Russell said. “In that speech to the General Assembly in 1974, he talked about the ‘exciting opportunities available’ for the ‘modernization of our courts.’

“He predicted that the impact of technology on government would ‘be profound.’”

While much has changed in the last four decades, she said, the courts also face similar issues today.


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