Limbaugh's address departs norm

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In delivering his State of the Judiciary address before a joint session of the General Assembly on Tuesday, Missouri Supreme Court Justice Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. departed from tradition.

Instead of the usual recitation of dry facts and figures on how many cases state courts handled and disposed of during the previous year and lobbying lawmakers to increase appropriations for the judicial branch, Limbaugh spoke of his experiences on the bench and those of other judges to highlight the role and challenges of the judiciary in dispensing justice.

Limbaugh also invited legislators to visit courts at all levels to gain a first-hand understanding of the process.

"You will see the difficulty and complexity of the issues raised by the parties," Limbaugh said. "You will see how we members of the court struggle with those issues in an effort to follow the law as written in our Constitution and statutes you enact. And it is our hope that you will understand that the resolution of the cases depends not on our personal preferences, or even on our personal notion of the equities involved, but on our abiding oath to follow the law as written in the Constitution and the statutes you enact."

'Best speech I ever heard'

Limbaugh's address was his first before the Legislature since beginning a two-year term as chief justice in July. It was also the first by a Cape Girardeau County native since the annual State of the Judiciary speeches began in 1974.

The chief justice's yearly appearance usually isn't considered among the highlights of the legislative session. Limbaugh's address, however, brought high praise from lawmakers for its focus on the personal -- rather than the procedural -- impact of the legal system and the judges and lawyers at the heart of it.

"It was the best speech I ever heard in my life," said state Rep. Ralph Monaco, D-Raytown and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "Lawyers need to go back to the basic position that they are civic leaders, that they not be dedicated to the almighty dollar but the almighty community."

Though Limbaugh put it more eloquently, Monaco was impressed by the chief justice's admonition to lawyers to "get off their rear ends and do good things."

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girar-deau, cited a Roman orator who said the ideal of a public speaker is a good man speaking well.

"I don't think there is any question we heard that ideal expressed today in what was the finest State of the Judiciary I've heard in my 10 years here," Kinder said. "It was personal and evocative of what a judge does, for those of us who don't regularly haunt the courthouse halls."

Many lawmakers were surprised the speech didn't center on increased spending for judicial initiatives. Limbaugh's only reference to money came at the end, when he asked legislators to "take a fair account of the needs of the judiciary."

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