Missouri's newest Supreme Court judge Friday said Missouri's lawyers play important roles in communities as well as in the legal system.
In a 13-minute address to the Missouri Bar's Fall Conference luncheon, W. Brent Powell said: "I'm proud to be a Missouri lawyer. Many of you know that I come from a family of lawyers — I grew up surrounded by lawyers and the legal system. This profession has always been more than a job or a career to me; it has been a way of life."
He noted those attending Friday's meetings and workshops came to Jefferson City "to improve our system of justice, our legal system and our bar. You're taking time away from your busy lives, your law practice and your personal lives and responsibilities to be here for something greater than yourselves."
It's a continuing job, he said, with "much, much work" needed.
"In civil and criminal cases, we must ensure that justice is not reserved just for the wealthy," Powell said.
The audience applauded when he added: "We must ensure that everyone, from all walks of life, has the opportunity to be adequately heard in our courts and get a fair hearing or trial."
Powell spent nine years as a Jackson County Circuit judge before joining the Supreme Court in April, following his nomination as one of three finalists among 30 applicants for the high court vacancy and his appointment to the court by Gov. Eric Greitens.
Powell said he was adjusting to his new role as one of seven judges instead of being the only judge in the courtroom.
He was surprised by the court's tradition the newest judge goes first when the judges gather in their conference room after hearing oral arguments to take a preliminary vote on how they think a case should be decided.
"I wanted to hear all they had to say first," he said.
"We make a lot of hard, tough decisions that result sometimes in some tough votes," Powell explained of the court's monthly conference, where the judges decide which appeals to hear and which to reject.
When it came to deciding the dessert at the court's next holiday party, he quipped, "I'm a cookie guy. Apparently, all six of my colleagues like cheesecake. I got outvoted one to six — and I couldn't ask for a recount."
More seriously, Powell said, he's spent a lot of times over the years thinking about ways to improve courts and people's "access to justice."
He noted, during the recent swearing-in ceremonies for new lawyers who recently passed the Bar exam, colleague Paul Wilson told the state's newest attorneys: "You have entered a very noble profession — a profession of service. You are all servants."
In many cases, Powell said, lawyers "are the backbone of our community organizations. Lawyers have always stepped up — and will continue to step up — to serve on school boards, churches and community councils, and other civic commissions and organizations."
While other professions also have representatives serving on those boards and organizations, Powell said, attorneys "provide the necessary guidance and leadership to support these community organizations. We work on committees and commissions to improve the law, our legal system and our profession."
That work includes providing legal assistance for veterans and others with legal needs.
"That makes me proud," Powell said. "We seek to improve access to justice for all."