Albert Riederer, a former Missouri state judge, three-term Jackson County prosecutor, mayoral candidate and prominent civic leader in Kansas City for a generation, died early Thursday at age 67 after a battle with cancer.
“This guy was truly a great human being and a great man,” Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders said. “We’ve lost one of our great citizens.”
Last month, as news of Riederer’s illness became known, hundreds of friends and former employees gathered at the Uptown Theater to celebrate his long law career and life dedicated to causes in Kansas City. They gave Riederer a standing ovation when he entered with his wife, Jackson County Circuit Judge Sandra Midkiff.
Riederer deflected praise at the event, saying he was lucky to have been able to work with and mentor so many talented people in his public and private roles.
“It’s not me,” Riederer said that day. “It’s you, and it’s always been that way.”
Some who worked alongside Riederer early in their careers went on to such posts as chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, judge on the Missouri Court of Appeals and federal magistrate. One of his former assistant prosecutors, Claire McCaskill, is about to begin her second term in the U.S. Senate.
“Albert pushed me to learn more and take risks,” McCaskill wrote in a statement Thursday. “He was a terrific political mentor, and an even better lifelong friend and supporter. His eyes always twinkled and his brain never stopped — he was brilliant, and his legions of friends will miss him terribly. My thoughts and prayers are with Sandy and their two children.”
Sanders said Riederer created the modern prosecutor’s office in Jackson County with the drug unit, COMBAT anti-crime program and drug court.
Riederer’s focus on treatment instead of incarceration went against the trend by prosecutors at the time.
“Even during the meth and crack craze in the late ’80s, Albert went in a different direction,” Sanders said. “He said, ‘We can’t incarcerate our way out of this.’ He started treatment programs. He was a guy who was really ahead of his time.”
Riederer, who had his own law firm, was a Missouri Court of Appeals judge from 1997 to 1999. He served three terms as Jackson County prosector from 1981 to 1993 and one term from 1978 to 1980 as a Jackson County legislator.
Beyond his public roles, Riederer worked on multiple city endeavors, lending his time and leadership to civic boards, organizations and public efforts. Riederer also ran for mayor in 2007, finishing third and out of the runoff between Alvin Brooks and eventual winner Mark Funkhouser.
“He was not self-serving in the least,” said Kevin Regan, a prominent Kansas City attorney who worked as a young assistant prosecutor under Riederer. “He wanted to serve his fellow man. He wanted to serve his fellow Kansas Citians.”
The prosecutor’s office has an award, named after Riederer, that goes to the assistant prosecutor who exemplifies the same qualities and high standards, current prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Thursday.
“Albert’s legacy encouraged the utmost in ethics, honesty, fair dealing and compassion,” Baker said in a written statement.
Riederer, a 1964 graduate of Rockhurst High School, was the son of Henry Riederer, also a Jackson County circuit judge and a respected innovator in family court. He presided over Division I, the same division now presided over by Riederer’s wife.
Like Henry Riederer, Albert Riederer was guided by a sense of public responsibility rather than self-aggrandizement, those who knew him said.
“I think he has always had a sense of devotion to public service and being involved in his community and always was eager to give back to his community,” Midkiff said Thursday. “That was deep in his roots.”
Matt Whitworth, a federal magistrate judge who once worked under Riederer, called him “a competitive guy, but always friendly.”
“When I think of Albert,” Whitworth said, “I think of how he would always tell us to do the right thing. When we were prosecuting a case, there was nothing about us making a name for him. How many prosecutors are there who are just in it to get their names in the paper? He was never like that.
“He treated defense attorneys as friends. It was almost disarming. When people would come to him feeling like perhaps they didn’t get a fair offer, he would sit down and listen to them and hear them out and go to the assistant to find out what the reasons were. He was a guy I greatly admired.”
Riederer graduated from St. Louis University in 1968 and New York University Law School in 1971. His daughter, Rachel Riederer, is a writer in New York. His son, Stephen Riederer, attends graduate school in Chicago, studying counseling and psychology at Rosalind Franklin University.
“His loss is a horrible one for his family, but Albert leaves a tremendous legacy,” Regan said. “He had a tremendous sense of what was right and wrong, and a tremendous sense of integrity. He was always looking out for the little guy.”