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Tufts Graduate To Head Missouri Supreme Court

Tufts Graduate To Head Missouri Supreme CourtLaura Denvir Stith, who began her two-year term as chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court this month, has been hailed for her legal acumen and diplomatic style.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.06.07] As the new chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, 1975 Tufts graduate Laura Denvir Stith hopes to dispel notions of "activist" judges and solidify her reputation as a skilled judicial diplomat.

"My decisions are based on the law and not on being liberal or conservative or any other particular category," she told the Associated Press. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch cited a survey by Missouri Lawyers Weekly that called Stith "the closest thing the current court has to a 'swing' vote."

Stith is the second woman to hold the post, which is rotated every two years based on seniority. She has sat on the seven-member court since 2001.

"The thing I like most about Judge Stith is, she is a real scholar who writes scholarly opinions," Cape Girardeau (Mo.) County prosecutor Morley Swingle told the Post-Dispatch. "I don't think there's any concern that Judge Stith would let any personal viewpoints prevent her from following the law."

Stith, who wrote 400 decisions while sitting on the Missouri Court of Appeals from 1994-2001, takes particular pride in authoring decisions. "I love getting to explain the law and the reasons [behind rulings]," she told the Post-Dispatch.

Court of Appeals judge Hal Lowenstein, who once worked with Stith, told the Post-Dispatch that Stith has a gift for explaining complex legal workings in plain terms-a talent that will serve her well in her new role.

"It should make an impact, in that she's being forthright and honest and not dodging and weaving," he added. "She can look [legislators] in the eye and tell them that the court system is not trying to legislate or get across personal views, but to merely solve disputes that people bring to the court."

Stith comes from a family dedicated to public service: her father was mayor of her hometown of Clayton, Mo., her mother was a social activist, and three of her siblings also became lawyers.

After receiving her law degree from Georgetown, she clerked for a justice on the Missouri Supreme Court, an experience that made her want to become a judge, according to the Associated Press.

"Stith has a flair for peacemaking that could come in handy," the Associated Press reported. "In legal circles, she is known as a bridge-builder who looks for common ground."

In her new role as the head of the highest court in her home state, Stith will seek to stymie criticism of "activist" courts by speaking to schools and community organizations about the role of the judiciary. She also hopes to give poor people easier access to the court system and reduce the stress on the public defender system.

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