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Missouri chief justice emphasizes cooperation in speech to lawmakers

House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Jefferson County, listens to Mo. Chief Justice Paul Wilson deliver the State of the Judiciary address on March 8, 2022
Sarah Kellogg
St. Louis Public Radio
In his State of the Judiciary address on Tuesday, Chief Justice Paul Wilson asked lawmakers to work with him to help Missouri's judicial employees and those who are involved with the courts.

Missouri’s chief justice is urging state lawmakers to work with him and the governor to keep the state’s judiciary strong.

While separation of powers is outlined in the state’s constitution, Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson told a joint session of the House and Senate on Tuesday that being separate did not mean the three branches of governments needed to be antagonistic to each other.

“Despite the different roles we play in our system of checks and balances, all three branches must continually communicate and cooperate if we are to serve the constitution and the people well,” Wilson said in the annual State of the Judiciary address. “Separate does not mean adversarial, and it never has.”

In that spirit, Wilson took the time to thank Gov. Mike Parson for requesting additional funding for broadband expansion in the state. Virtual hearings, he said, make the courts operate more efficiently and can increase access to the justice system.

“Yet this demand for increased online services merely highlights how much more difficult it is for some to make use of those services than others,” Wilson said. “There can be no doubt the digital divide is real.”

Wilson said he appreciated that the budget included a pay raise for all state employees, but said he wanted to work with lawmakers to find a way to boost the pay of court employees further. Too often, he said, Missouri courts train employees who then leave for the private sector.

He also pushed lawmakers to approve a measure from Rep. Bruce DeGroot, R-Chesterfield, that allows judges to remove their personal information, and that of their families, from digital spaces. It makes posting the information publicly with the intent of causing harm a felony.

“As public servants, we know we are not, and should not be immune from public scrutiny and criticism,” Wilson said. “But none of us or our families should be put in harm's way.”

While the bill has yet to be referred to a committee, DeGroot said he expected it to make it to the floor for debate at some point during the session.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.