State of the Judiciary mesmerizes listeners as best ever

Sunday, January 20, 2002

It was "the best speech I've ever heard," personable Democratic state Rep. Ralph Monaco of Raytown told this newspaper. Monaco was speaking of the annual State of the Judiciary address given by the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court.

This year that role is filled ably by Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. of Cape Girardeau, last Tuesday morning's speaker to a joint session of the Missouri House and Senate in the ornate House chamber in your state Capitol. State of the Judiciary speeches have been made for about the last 20 years, perhaps less. This writer told a Senate chamber a few minutes later that I had heard no dissenters from the view that it was the finest of its kind ever.

For nearly 30 minutes, Justice Limbaugh stood before a rapt audience of lawmakers, staffers and guests as he mesmerized us on the business of judging. Speaking movingly and not infrequently with considerable emotion, citing specific cases from his five-year tenure as circuit judge here, Steve began by referencing the two-year House career (1930-'32) of his eminent grandfather, "the first Rush Limbaugh."

Evoking that great man, who for only about a century meant so much to us around here, Limbaugh stated, "The honor of serving the public is the theme of my presentation on the state of the judiciary. Those who serve as judges, like those who serve in the General Assembly, must do so for the honor of serving the public."

Herewith, an excerpt, and a vivid example:

"Circuit Judge Joan Burger, who sits in a criminal division, is one of the volunteers for the truancy program. She ... published an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch describing the program. ... She wrote that 'My motivation is simply this: 85 percent of the people in prison are high school dropouts. I thought that if I can keep them in school, then maybe I won't have to send them to prison.' ... I'll share Judge Burger's conclusion: 'In most cases, attendance improves immediately. All the words and threats and tears of parents, teachers and counselors haven't worked, but the authority of the judge and the frequent court dates turn these kids around.'"

After the speech, we senators repaired to our chamber and heard much praise for the chief justice's address. I was proud to host the justice's parents, U.S. District Judge and Mrs. Stephen N. Limbaugh Sr., together with the chief justice's wife Marsha, niece Katie and sons Stephen III and Christopher.

Speaking to my colleagues of the long, four-generation friendship between our families, I invoked the ancient ideal of the orator, taught by the Roman scholar Quintillian, as "the good man speaking well." Steve, that was you, last Tuesday morning, definitely commanding the moment. Well done, sir. How proud your old Pop (Rush Limbaugh), gone now these six years, must be.

Peter Kinder is assistant to the chairman of Rust Communications and president pro tem of the Missouri Senate.

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