Missouri litigation reform sponsor dies at age 46

Monday, May 16, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Suburban St. Louis Rep. Richard Byrd, the lead sponsor of Missouri's new litigation limits and a lawyer who had a hand in numerous state laws, has died. He was 46.

Byrd suffered a heart attack at his Kirkwood home on Saturday evening, House Speaker Rod Jetton said Sunday. Just one day earlier, the legislature had adjourned its annual session.

A Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Byrd handled one of the Republicans' top priorities of the past several years -- a bill limiting medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits. After being vetoed the past two years by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, the lawsuit legislation was signed into law this year by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt and will take effect Aug. 28.

Byrd also was the go-to guy for many House members who needed help drafting bills and amendments or understanding the legal ramifications of complex proposals. Byrd often was still laboring in his Capitol office during the wee hours of the morning, reviewing bills or proposed state regulations.

"He was so smart and so knowledgeable on things, he had a lot of credibility," said Jetton, R-Marble Hill. "When he stood up to say something, people listened. He had big sway, big influence in the Capitol."

Byrd also was chairman of the legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which reviewed rules proposed by state agencies.

A graduate of the Washington University law school, Byrd served on the Kirkwood City Council from 1994 to 2000, when he was elected to the state House of Representatives. Byrd was re-elected to his third two-year term last November.

In the House, Byrd succeeded fellow attorney Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, who now is the Senate president pro tem.

"Richard was a gifted legislator," Gibbons said. "He demonstrated a true mastery of detail and dove into complex and intricate issues. The people of Missouri undoubtedly benefited from his commitment to passing solid legislation."

House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, described Byrd as "a very big contributor" to a lot of legislation -- "very through, detailed, very intelligent, and even though he was verbose, he could get to the point."

After the legislative session ended Friday, Byrd posed with other lawmakers from the freshman class of 2000 for a photo on the Capitol steps. Then he went out to dinner at the Lake of the Ozarks with Jetton, Bearden and other lawmakers and staff.

"Everybody's just totally shocked and saddened beyond belief," Jetton said. "It just doesn't seem real."

It's up to the governor to decide whether -- and when -- to call a special election to choose Byrd's successor. Byrd's death leaves the Republicans with a 97-64 House majority, with two vacancies.

Byrd is survived by his wife, Moira, and two children, Richard and Ellie.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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