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story.lead_photo.caption In this screenshot from video, Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice George Draper speaks to the joint annual meeting of the Missouri Bar and the Judicial Conference of Missouri. Photo by News Tribune / News Tribune.

Document: Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice George Draper's Address to the Missouri Bar and the Judicial Conference of Missouri

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The chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court is calling on the state's legal community to continue working for more diversity in the state's court system.

Chief Justice George Draper spoke this week at the first joint annual meeting of the Missouri Bar and the Judicial Conference of Missouri to be held virtually, due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We in Missouri must remain mindful of our justice system's failings, from its treatment of Dred Scott and Lloyd Gaines in centuries past to more recent abuses," Draper said. "A new era of urgency for change in our justice system has been ushered in by the untimely death of those for whom the opportunity for justice ended on the streets."

Draper referred to a recent poll of more than 600 judges nationwide that asked whether they believe systemic racism exists in the criminal justice system.

"A staggering 65 percent responded 'yes,'" Draper said. "For those who accuse judges of being out of touch with their communities, surely this is evidence that they are not. They too have witnessed demonstrations, destruction, and death in cities large and small across America as part of a national movement some have compared with a call for a third reconstruction."

Draper said the judicial system has been forced to acknowledge there still is not equal treatment of Black people and people of color in the justice system.

"Like it or not, the issue of race and racial disparity in our profession is undeniable, although its full impact is yet to be seen," he said. "We need to be open and honest in our conversations to make our profession and our society more inclusive."

Draper said the state Constitution promises Missouri's courts are open and accessible to all. He said recent events force the legal community to see courts through the lens of the oppressed and to ask what kind of culture they are establishing.

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In Missouri, Draper noted, judges and lawyers are taking steps to build a more inclusive legal system.

"That work began in earnest when our fellow attorney, former Kansas City Mayor Sylvester 'Sly' James Jr., encouraged law firms to sign a pledge to increase minority practitioners in their organizations," Draper said. "His work sparked a statewide effort, and now, the Missouri Bar has established a special committee on lawyers of color in the profession. As the Bar noted, diversity in the legal profession means equality of opportunity to practice law in a position of influence throughout society."

Draper said the charge of the new committee is to recommend specific actions the Bar can take in the next 12-24 months to increase the retention, promotion and advancement of minority lawyers in Missouri.

"I hope each and every attorney keeps an open mind in approaching the continuing legal education requirements of (Supreme Court) Rule 15.05 mandating training about eliminating implicit bias," he said. "We have to flatten the curve of prejudice so the department of justice someday is not just a namesake of a division of the federal government but a reality in which everyone in our society can believe.

"A culture of respect and fairness, and a justice system in which all persons are truly equal under the law, is a far better dream for 2021 and beyond than the nightmare 2020 has thrust upon us," Draper added. "It is my hope for people of color to be as overrepresented in our professions as they are in our prisons."

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