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Revising Codes and Committees

Over the course of the past few years, several Missouri Bar presidents have used this column to ask for your support of the bar-drafted and sponsored comprehensive revision to Missouri’s Criminal Code. All of your hard work has finally paid off. Late last week the Missouri House and Senate, after fixing a few minor drafting errors that Governor Nixon identified in his review, overwhelmingly passed the revised Criminal Code. It will become effective on January 1, 2017.

As many of you know, Missouri’s Criminal Code was last revised in the late 1970s. In the 35 years since it was last revised, the Code had become terribly out of date. Criminal laws were overly complex and inconsistent. Passage of the revised Criminal Code will make Missouri’s Criminal Code much more consistent and fair in its application. Furthermore, the revised Criminal Code will more severely punish those whom we are right to fear and it will save Missouri taxpayers money.

Passage of the revised Criminal Code was a monumental undertaking. Hundreds of lawyers from across our state spent thousands of hours painstakingly reviewing each line of every criminal statute and then drafting a revised code that mirrored the realities and complexities of our modern criminal justice system as it exists in 2014. Drafting the revised Criminal Code took four years, but that was still just half the battle. It then took three more years for its sponsors to educate Missouri’s legislators and the Governor that the revised Criminal Code, with its new misdemeanor and felony classes, represented a careful and thoughtful reorganization of our state’s existing criminal laws that is not only tough on crime but also smart on crime.

While the efforts of many members of the bar were critical in obtaining the overwhelming majority that passed the bill in its final form in the Missouri Senate and House, it is important to recognize several lawyers for their unwavering support and dedication to the passage of this much-needed legislation. In the Senate, the revised Criminal Code was co-sponsored by Senator Jolie Justus. Senator Justus, a Democrat from Kansas City, was joined as co-sponsor by the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Robert Dixon, a Republican non-lawyer from Springfield. The dogged determination that these two senators exhibited over the course of the last three years in moving this 1,000-page bill forward, carefully and constantly explaining its many provisions to senators on the floor of the Senate and to the public in numerous committee meetings, was truly remarkable. Indeed, at one point in the debate on the Senate floor, Senators Justus and Dixon carefully reviewed and explained each section of the revised code to all of the senators and answered all of their questions in a marathon session that lasted more than seven hours over the course of two days.

Their determination to pass the revised Criminal Code was matched on the House side by its co-sponsors, Representative Stanley Cox, a Republican from Sedalia, a lawyer and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Representative Christopher Kelly, a Democrat from Columbia and also a member of the House Judiciary Committee. These two representatives knew the provisions of the revised code in detail, and their well-earned reputation and credibility as lawyers and careful legislators convinced the other members of the House to overwhelmingly vote for the revised Criminal Code.

We all owe a great debt to Senators Justus and Dixon and to Representatives Cox and Kelly for a job well done. The revised Criminal Code will be a great benefit to all the citizens of Missouri.

Revising the Missouri’s Criminal Code to bring it up to date and consistent with the realities of our modern criminal justice system is not the only updating project that The Missouri Bar has been addressing this year. Another multiple year restructuring project has also begun.

This project – to review and update the Missouri Bar committee structure, and the scope of a number of committees to more accurately reflect how law is practiced in 2014 – began earlier this bar year. A “Committee on Committees,” chaired by Board of Governors member Dana Tippin Cutler from Kansas City, was appointed and has worked diligently since last fall analyzing the mission and scope of all existing committees. Unfortunately, the names and scopes of many of our committees do not reflect what lawyers do to practice law and, more importantly, many key areas of the law are not represented in any of our current Missouri Bar committees. Because of this, many members have the perception that they do not have a place within The Missouri Bar. Our goal is to bolster volunteer involvement by ensuring that all members find a place in the Bar to lend their expertise for the good of our profession and the clients we serve.

Toward that end, in July the Board of Governors will review a comprehensive plan that will restructure and revise Missouri Bar committees. New committees will be created, other committees will merge, some inactive committees will be dissolved, and other committees will have their scopes completely revised and updated. The goal is to make the committee structure and its committees relevant to all the lawyers engaged in any type of practice, anywhere in the state of Missouri.

Revising the Criminal Code took seven years. Revising and updating the committee structure of The Missouri Bar will take a couple of years. Implementing those changes will require the assistance of hundreds of lawyers. After the Board acts, we will publish the recommended changes for your input and comment.