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Our Opinion: Leadership, stewardship of the courts

News Tribune editorial June 28, 2015 at 12:30 p.m. | Updated June 28, 2015 at 12:30 p.m.

As Mary R. Russell's term as Missouri Supreme Court chief justice comes to a close, she deserves recognition not only for her role as the state's top jurist, but also for her stewardship of the courts.

In Missouri, a rotation among the seven high court judges determines who is elevated to a two-year term as chief justice; this differs from the procedure at the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court, where the role of chief justice is a lifetime appointment.

Russell has continued the process of enhancing technology for the state's court system.

In civil cases, e-filing increases efficiency for attorneys and their clients. In criminal cases, Russell said "it's now taking a fraction of the time it used to take, when sheriffs had to go knock on the door and find a judge in the middle of the night" to get required signatures for search warrants or other special documents.

In addition to advancing automation and hearing and deciding cases, Russell also has reached out to share the role of the court with the people it serves.

The judiciary, the third branch of government, may be described as the most mysterious, largely because deliberations are secret and cameras and audio recordings are limited.

Russell has demonstrated a commitment both to inform and to learn.

• "Undercover judge" is the moniker attached to her practice of visiting circuit courts and conversing with litigants. (The practice mirrors the reality television show, "Undercover Boss," where the boss goes incognito to interact with employees).

"It's been 20 years since I've been in a trial courtroom on a daily basis, since I practiced law," Russell said. "Talking to people right there brought reality back to me and reminded me, refreshed me, that there are real people behind these cases."

• Truancy court is a program she conducts at Lewis and Clark Middle School. Working with local educators and a local Rotary Club, Russell initiated a student court at the middle school to focus on attendance, attentiveness and accountability.

• "Justice Matters" is a column she writes about the history and workings of Missouri's court system. Published periodically in the News Tribune, the column provides readers with a unique perspective on the judiciary.

As Mary R. Russell's term as chief justice comes to a close, we applaud both her leadership and stewardship of Missouri's court system.

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