Missouri Supreme Court Justice William Ray Price Jr. - Notes on the State of Missouri's Judiciary

William Ray Price Jr. addressed the state of the Missouri Judiciary to
the Missouri General Assembly yesterday. To view the speech or hear the
audio see Missouri Netizen State of the Missouri Judiciary transcript.

Key Quotes::

Our programs to keep Missouri judges
educated and up-to-date on the law are vitally important to the quality
of our judiciary. Judges shouldn’t be the lowest paid and the least
educated lawyers in the courtroom. But we have cut $443,000 from that

There is not a single factor that
more adversely impacts our ability to attract and retain quality judges
as the relatively low level of judicial pay. Today we have four former
Supreme Court judges, in the prime of their careers, enjoying the
greener pastures of private practice and two enjoying the higher pay of
the federal courts.

Missouri currently ranks 39th
in the nation in pay levels for our trial court judges, who are paid
approximately $120,000 per year. We have lower pay than all the states
that surround us: Iowa ($137,000); Illinois ($174,000); Tennessee
($148,000); Arkansas ($136,000); Oklahoma ($124,000); and Nebraska
($128,000) … excepting only Kansas, whose trial court pay approximately
equals ours ($120,000). (I don’t know if it is worse to be below
Arkansas or tied with Kansas?)

The solution to this problem is
relatively simple: either increase the public defender’s funding or
tell the public defender who to defend and who not to defend within the
limits of their funding. At present, you only allow the public defender
to determine eligibility by indigency. That means only the poorest
offenders will qualify, regardless of the severity of the crime. I
would suggest that the most serious charges be targeted, and that the
least serious charges be those for which jail time cannot be sought, if
we cannot adequately fund the public defender’s office. This is simple
common sense. Spend our money where it counts. But your statutes don’t
read that way now.

Listen to these numbers. In 1994,
shortly after I came to the Court, the number of nonviolent offenders
in Missouri prisons was 7,461. Today it’s 14,204. That’s almost double.
In 1994, the number of new commitments for nonviolent offenses was
4,857. Last year, it was 7,220 -- again, almost double. At a rate of
$16,432 per offender, we currently are spending $233.4 million a year
to incarcerate nonviolent offenders … not counting the investment in
the 10 prisons it takes to hold these individuals at $100 million per
prison. In 1994, appropriations to the Department of Corrections
totaled $216,753,472. Today, it’s $670,079,452. The amount has tripled.
And the recidivism rate for these individuals, who are returned to
prison within just two years, is 41.6 percent.

Do you just want to punish offenders,
or do you want to make our streets and highways safer places to drive?
Long jail sentences and 10 year license revocations certainly punish
people. We have those already, and look at the number of repeat
offenders – more than 4,500 a year. The proof of the misfocus of our
anger is in the numbers.

Remember Avery v. State Farm,
the case from Illinois in which an Illinois Supreme Court justice cast
the deciding vote in a $450 million case in favor of an insurance