Senior U.S. District Court Judge Scott O. Wright, a respected and plain-spoken member of the federal bench in the Western District of Missouri since 1979, died Monday in Kansas City. He was 93.
Wright was nominated to the bench by President Jimmy Carter after being recommended by Sen. Tom Eagleton. He served as chief judge in the Western District of Missouri from 1985 to 1990 and assumed senior status in 1991. He continued to work until 2014.
Wright was known for his unconventional demeanor, which sometimes amused or annoyed those in the courtroom.
“One of a kind” was a phrase offered Monday by several people who knew Wright.
“First off, no one ever had so much fun wearing the robe as Judge Wright,” Mark Morris, a former federal court reporter for The Kansas City Star, posted on Facebook. “The job was a delight to him every day. Covering him as a journalist was a hoot, from the courtroom to his chambers.”
Wright was also controversial. He angered abortion opponents by blocking state laws restricting abortion rights. He combined damage claims from the Hyatt Regency hotel collapse in Kansas City into one bundle.
Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, whose family and Wright’s were close, said last year that Wright was “one of the most self-effacing federal judges in the country in terms of his ability to laugh at himself.”
Wright was born in a farmhouse in Haigler, Neb. The family lost the farm to foreclosure and moved to Missouri.
“Had it not been for the Depression, Scott probably would have become a rich Republican Nebraska farmer. Or not,” according to Wright’s colorful obituary. “Unquestionably, Scott’s family circumstance informed his devotion to the less fortunate and his keen devotion to fair play.”
Wright suspended his college education to enlist for duty in World War II and was a Navy cadet and a Marine Corps aviator in the Pacific. He graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1950. He served as Columbia city attorney and then Boone County prosecutor before going into private practice in Columbia for more than 20 years until he was appointed to the federal bench.
“One of his most prized cases was one in which he represented a husband in an ‘alienation of affections’ case and won the sizable verdict of $1.00,” Wright’s obituary said.
Profits from a book Wright co-authored, “Never in Doubt, Memoirs of an Uncommon Judge,” were donated to the MU School of Law. In 2007, Wright also pledged $100,000 to fund a scholarship at the school.
“I was happy to do it,” he said at the time. “I feel like the University of Missouri did me a great favor for me by putting me through law school.”