As new Gov. Eric Greitens talks about a state legal system in need of change, Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge on Tuesday had her say.
Breckenridge, in her State of the Judiciary address, said rallying cries for changes to tort law could be misguiding as only 1 percent of cases filed in Missouri courts involve tort claims.
“Do not view these calls for action as condemnation of our judicial system,” Breckenridge said.
Greitens outlined his ideas for an overhaul of the legal system during his State of the State address last week. He called on lawmakers to revise Missouri’s consumer protection law and to rework the state’s standard in determining which scientific experts get allowed into trials, saying the changes would improve the state’s business climate.
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Greitens also cited a report that named St. Louis the “worst judicial hellhole in America.” In St. Louis County, the municipal court system was found to be working closely with lawyers to cut financial deals beneficial for both parties.
Breckenridge pointed to ways the judiciary has already been working to respond to that critique.
“When serious problems in some St. Louis County municipal divisions came to light, we owned those problems,” Breckenridge said. She pointed to municipal court consolidations, extensive new standards for municipal court divisions and additional protocols for presiding judges.
And she said that the system that holds people who “simply are poor” in pretrial incarceration facilities must be altered. She said a Supreme Court task force would recommend changes.
Breckenridge also emphasized the need for bipartisan work toward higher wages for court employees and making court filings accessible online.
Missouri completed implementation of an e-filing system for court records last year, but Breckenridge said there is still much to consider in opening the courts to the web.
The fiscal issues that accompany the expansion of public access to case records as well as the security of such an expansion continue to be debated.